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House Heads to Do or Die Vote on Health Care

White House threatens to walk if health bill fails

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, is interviewed in Rayburn Building after he and other members of the HFC met at the White House with President Trump, March 23, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, is interviewed in Rayburn Building after he and other members of the HFC met at the White House with President Trump, March 23, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Regardless of whether the votes are sewn up, the House will likely vote Friday on Republican leaders’ plan to partially repeal and replace the 2010 health care law — and President Donald Trump is willing to walk away from the effort if the measure fails in the chamber. 

In a closed-door meeting of the Republican conference attended by Trump’s senior aides, including Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Senior Adviser Steve Bannon, Counselor Kellyanne Conaway and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, the president’s aides delivered the message that they were done negotiating and the time was now to vote, win or lose.

Asked whether leadership has the votes to clear the bill, he said “we’re going to vote and we’ll see,” Bannon said.

A GOP aide confirmed that Mulvaney told lawmakers Trump is done negotiating and wants a vote on Friday. 

House later on voted to grant the chamber same-day rule authority so the measure can be voted on Friday. Normally, a two-thirds vote is required to allow the chamber to vote on a bill reported the same day by the Rules Committee.

The Rules Committee will reconvene Friday morning to adopt the actual rule, which the House will vote on Friday along with the actual bill.

In a brief statement to reporters, Speaker Paul D. Ryan said that for seven years Republicans have been working to repeal the 2010 law and that on Friday “we will proceed.”

“Tomorrow is a good day,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said as he walked into the Capitol and the meeting. 

“I think we’ll get it tomorrow,” the California Republican said. 

Asked about his whip count, Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry said “very accurate.” 

New York Rep. Chris Collins said the president wants an up or down vote Friday no matter what the outcome and that if the bill fails he’s going to move on to tax reform. 

“This is our moment in time, and the president’s insisting on a vote tomorrow one way or the other,” Collins said of the message at the meeting. “This is our moment in time. It is tomorrow afternoon. We are done negotiating, there are no more negotiations.”

The dictate came after a series of setbacks, after House leaders cancelled a planned Thursday vote on the package because they couldn’t secure enough votes to pass the measure. In a long day of meetings at the White House and on Capitol Hill, Trump and Ryan scrambled to try to keep moderates on board with the package as they faced an escalating series of demands from more conservative members.

The latest package will incorporate a new four-page amendment, also unveiled late Thursday, that is aimed at bringing the conservative House Freedom Caucus on board with the measure. It will add several provisions, including a repeal of the law’s essential health benefit requirements.

That has been a major ask from the conservatives, but they have signaled that alone would not be sufficient to secure their votes.

The House will vote at 10 a.m. on the rule for the package as well as the new amendment, with a final vote expected mid- to late-afternoon, Collins said.

“I’d be shocked if we don’t [vote Friday] given what they said,” Rep. Glenn Grothman said.

Before the 7 p.m. meeting, Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady said he wasn’t sure the votes would be there in an appearance on CNBC. But he encouraged members to keep working on a deal.

“We’ve made significant changes and improvements. Why not stay at the table, continue to work that direction, and actually finish this as soon as we can build consensus,” he said.

Brady said that Republicans currently lack the votes to pass the health care bill.

“So here’s the encouraging news from today: clearly we don’t have the votes yet, but clearly no one is walking away from the table. Not the conservatives, not the moderates, not the president. Certainly none of us are,” Brady said. “Tonight’s going to be an assessment of where we’re at.”

Heading into the meeting, North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows said nothing had changed but that he was still optimistic a deal can be reached. 

The Freedom Caucus chairman said he’s in the process of trying to set up a meeting with the moderate Tuesday Group. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, a co-chairman of the Tuesday Group, said he was still a “no” vote. 

Meadows said he’d like there to be well above 218 votes for any final measure and cited 237, the total number of House Republicans, as an “aspirational goal.”

Asked about critics saying he continues to move the goal posts, Meadows dismissed the characterizations saying good negotiators start with an offer that has some flexibility to change as negotiations go on. 

“You only reach of the deal if you change things at the end,” he said.

Adding to the intrigue, several conservative groups, like Americans for Prosperity and Heritage Action for America, were urging “no” votes on the legislation. 

After the conference meeting, Meadows said he’s still a “no” and he will be talking to Freedom Caucus members to see where they’re at now. Although he said he still had an idea of his whip count he declined to share it.

The president’s ultimatum that if the health care bill doesn’t pass tomorrow he’ll move on to a tax reform “certainly does” amp up the pressure, he said.

“At this point it’s, uh, we’ve been, uh, given a binary choice,” he said.

As for that binary choice, many Republicans who previously said they were “no” votes, including many moderates like New Jersey’s Leonard Lance and Florida’s Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and conservatives like Maryland’s Andy Harris and Kentucky’s Thomas Massie, said they were still voting against the measure. 

Erin Mershon, Lindsey McPherson, Rema Rahman, Joe Williams and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.


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