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Calm and Steady Opposition From Freedom Caucus

No formal position, but plenty of expected no votes on GOP health plan

Mark Meadows predicts enough opposition from his Freedom Caucus to sink the GOP health care plan. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Mark Meadows predicts enough opposition from his Freedom Caucus to sink the GOP health care plan. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House Freedom Caucus will not take a formal position against the House GOP health care bill before the chamber votes on it Thursday, but the group’s chairman said he believes enough conservatives will vote “no” to sink it.

“I’ve been on the record that we have had enough votes to make sure that this does not pass, and nothing has changed,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said Monday. “And so to take just another formal position, I’m not wanting to poke someone in the eye. Our positions haven’t changed.” 

Perhaps that “someone” the North Carolina Republican and the Freedom Caucus don’t want to poke in the eye is President Donald Trump, who is scheduled to speak to the House Republican Conference Tuesday morning about his support for the bill. Meadows indicated as much when asked if he or other Freedom Caucus would signal their opposition at the meeting.

“I doubt that we would,” he said. “Most of our Freedom Caucus [members] think very highly of the president and so to take him on in a conference would not be appropriate. Certainly wouldn’t be what I would expect, let’s put it that way.”

Meadows said he would not change his mind even if Trump called him personally and asked him to vote for the bill.

“I will certainly take a call from the president and explain to him why we can do better in the House this week,” he said.

Meadows was at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida this weekend but did not meet with the president. He confirmed he met with Trump administration officials but declined to speak further about the meeting.

Meadow’s comments to reporters Monday came before the expected release of a manager’s amendment that GOP leaders said was designed to accommodate concerns of both conservative and moderate members of the conference. However, Meadows said he had already been briefed on the changes and noted it would not be enough to sway most of his members.

“There are obviously some small tweaks that are good tweaks, but there’s no substantial changes in the manager’s amendment that would make anybody be more compelled to vote for this,” he said.

The Freedom Caucus’s nine-member board met Monday evening and made the decision not have the full caucus take a formal position on the health care bill. For the group to take a formal position, they need 80 percent of their members to support that position. A shortage of that threshold is “not the reason” the caucus is not taking one, Meadows said.

Asked if his previous whip count of 40 “no” votes from HFC members and those that share the caucus’s views would be reflected in the vote on Thursday, Meadows said, “No, I do not. I’m not that bold to suggest that no one’s going to change their mind between now and Thursday. I already know of people who have changed their minds.”

However, he confirmed he believes enough “no” votes will hold to surmount 21, the number of Republican votes that can be lost without sinking the bill. Democrats are expected to all vote against the measure. With vacancies, GOP leaders need 216 of their members to vote “yes” for the bill to pass the House.

Meadows said he was not trying to pressure his members to vote against the bill.

“I’m trying to let my members vote the way that their constituents would want them to vote,” he said. “A majority of those would be to vote against this bill.”

“They’re all very aware of both the political advantages and disadvantages, more disadvantages than advantages,” he added.

Leadership has tried to assure conservatives that some of their requested changes that were left out of the manager’s amendment could be added in the Senate, Meadows said, but noted, “History typically shows it doesn’t get better for anybody in the Senate.”

Meanwhile, a prominent Trump surrogate says he hasn’t seen any signs of concern nor panic from GOP leaders about the bill’s chances.

“I’ve heard a significant level of confidence from our leadership that the votes will be there on Thursday,” said Rep. Chris Collins, a New York Republican.

Still, Collins said he already knows some members who are hard “no” votes, citing fellow New York Republican John Katko as an example. However, he said he expects the other New York Republicans to support the measure, in large part because of a Medicaid provision they’ve secured in the manager’s amendment that he said would “stop the cost sharing down to the 57 counties outside of New York City.” Collins said that provision would provide $2.3 billion in tax relief for New York counties.

Collins rejected the idea of a delay in Thursday’s vote, saying, “If we don’t get it done Thursday, what would be different on Friday? What would be different a month from Friday, or two months from Friday? I would say it would get worse.”

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