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Trump Huddles With GOP Senators as McConnell Issues Warning

At White House, majority leader says Republicans would lose leverage in talks with Dems

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, seen here at the Capitol on Tuesday, has major concerns about the Senate health care legislation. She sat next to the president at Tuesday's White House meeting on health care. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, seen here at the Capitol on Tuesday, has major concerns about the Senate health care legislation. She sat next to the president at Tuesday's White House meeting on health care. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump summoned Senate Republicans to the White House on Tuesday to discuss differences that are holding up a GOP leadership crafted health bill, declaring talks are “very close” to producing a deal and that it would be “OK” if the effort fails.

The Republican senators boarded busses outside the Capitol and made the short trek down Pennsylvania Avenue shortly after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky announced a vote on a still-evolving health overhaul measure would be delayed until after next week’s July Fourth recess. The move offered Trump, who held a Rose Garden victory celebration after the House passed its version in May, an opportunity to again cast himself as the dealmaker in chief.

But it was McConnell, who spoke to reporters outside the West Wing following the meeting, who put the stakes for Republicans in the starkest terms.

“I think the main thing is, as I’ve said, the status quo is simply unsustainable. It’ll be dealt with in one of two ways: Either Republicans will agree and change the status quo; or markets will continue to collapse and we’ll have to sit down with Sen. Schumer,” he said, referring to the chamber’s minority leader, Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York.

[Senate Republicans Delay Vote on Health Care Bill]

“And my suspicion is in any negotiation with Democrats will include none of the reforms that we would like to make on the market side and the Medicaid side,” McConnell said. “So for all of those reasons, we need to come up with a solution. The American people elected us to do that, and we’re working hard to get there.”

Earlier, the president, his voice echoing in the hastily set up East Room, prodded his fellow Republicans to resolve their differences and pass a bill. Doing so would move Republicans, including Trump, one step closer to achieving a collective campaign promise: that they would replace Barack Obama’s 2010 health law with something of their own creation.

Trump mostly has worked behind the scenes as McConnell and his leadership team first crafted a bill then worked in recent days to find the 50 votes needed to pass it. (In that event, Vice President Mike Pence would be needed to cast the decisive vote by breaking a tie.)

That changed on Tuesday afternoon when he entered the ornate room in the East Wing of the White House.

“We have really no choice but to solve the situation,” Trump said at the start of his brief opening remarks, adding: “Obamacare is melting down. Rates are going up.”

The objective of the meeting was, in the president’s words, “to talk and … see what we can do.”

GOP senators told Trump about their concerns about “about [health] market reforms and Medicaid, the future of Medicaid, and Medicaid expansion,” McConnell said.

Despite the vote being delayed and senators saying before they left Capitol Hill that they have ample work ahead to change the package in ways to get to 50 votes, Trump declared that “we’re getting very close.”

“But for the country, we have to have health care,” he said.

As he has in recent days, he kept up his criticism of Democrats for not working with Republicans during the health care overall effort, despite McConnell crafting the Senate bill entirely out of public view.

He called Democrats “the other side,” and criticized them for saying “all sorts of things before they even knew what the bill was.”

Yet, even as he brought the senators together and declared the talks close to producing a pact, Trump also left the door open that the Senate may never vote on a bill. That could happen if the differences of conservatives and moderates cannot be bridged.

“This will be great if we get it done,” he said. “And if we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like — and that’s OK. I understand that very well.”

[Trump Wants Health Care Bill by August Recess]

The East Room mini-summit was chock full of symbolism.

For instance, the president sat between health care bill holdouts Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

What’s more, senators composing the divided groups McConnell and Trump are trying to bring together sat in different parts of the room. Collins and Murkowski, moderate holdouts, sat with Trump on the far left. Conservative skeptics of the bill like Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin were seated on the far right. And Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas and Trump ally Sen. David Perdue of Georgia were sitting together in another section.

Trump and McConnell could have much arm-twisting ahead of them.

But before the busses even left for the White House meeting, Collins told reporters at the Capitol that the members’ differences might be insurmountable.

“Tinkering around the edges is not going to be sufficient to win my support,” she said, later adding when asked if a broad bill could include the wishes of moderates like herself and conservative Republicans like Sen. Mike Lee.: “I never underestimate the creativity of Mitch McConnell, but I can’t see it.”

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.