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McCain Absence Gives GOP More Time to Win — Or Lose — Health Care Votes

Schedule change could put focus back on Russia

With Sen. John McCain recuperating at home in Arizona from surgery, Senate GOP leaders are delaying consideration of the health care bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
With Sen. John McCain recuperating at home in Arizona from surgery, Senate GOP leaders are delaying consideration of the health care bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

That Sen. John McCain’s absence from the Capitol this week led Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to delay consideration of a bill to roll back the 2010 health care law is a sign of just how narrow the vote margin might be.

And it could bring the focus back to the chamber’s various Russia investigations.

“As soon as we have a full contingent of senators … we will have that vote, it’s important we do so,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Cornyn also said that if the current draft of the health care measure does not pass the Senate, “I assume we’ll keep trying.”

McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, announced the schedule change Saturday night, after the announcement that McCain would be staying home in Arizona on the advice of doctors following surgery to remove a blood clot on Friday.

Whether or not the delay is good for McConnell’s effort is anybody’s guess. It could give the leader more time to make adjustments and win over additional Republican votes — or it could provide more time for a revolt to develop.

Critical voices

That’s what Sen. Rand Paul thinks will happen. The Kentucky Republican is already opposed to the legislation.

“I think the longer the bill’s out there, the more conservative Republicans are going to discover that it’s not repeal, and the more that everybody’s going to discover that it keeps the fundamental flaw of Obamacare. It keeps the insurance mandates that cause the prices to rise, which chase young, healthy people out of the marketplace, and leads to what people call adverse selection,” Paul told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who had also already announced her opposition to proceeding with the health care bill, estimated Sunday that there could be anywhere from eight to 10 GOP senators with “deep concerns” about the most recent draft.

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” Collins was actively lobbying against the measure.

“This bill would make sweeping and deep cuts in the Medicaid program, which has been a safety net program on the books for more than 50 years,” Collins said. “It would also jeopardize the very existence of our rural hospitals and our nursing homes, which not only provide exceptional care to people in rural America, but also are major employers in the small communities in which they are located.”

McConnell released the health care measure’s updated language Thursday. It had remained unclear how several key members would vote on the proposal

The measure would make significant changes to Medicaid and upend government funding that helps individuals purchase health care coverage on the individual market.

Democrats have blasted the proposal for, among other things, estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that upward of 22 million more individuals could be without insurance over the next 10 years.

An updated CBO score could surface as early as Monday for the health care law replacement draft, but that may not include all of the provisions of what’s targeted for inclusion in the legislation.

Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming said before the weekend news that he expected to see a CBO score on the consumer freedom language favored by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz before the Senate finishes voting on the health care reconciliation bill — but maybe not on the front end.

McCain’s absence will have the effect of giving the CBO more time to get through the work of scoring the legislation, even as Republicans on Capitol Hill and in the Trump administration have been increasingly critical of the budget scorekeeper’s methods.

Return to Russia probe

Before the schedule change, many senators were going to be spending the week jumping back and forth between health care and the investigations of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections. Some Democrats were concerned about not being able to put enough focus on opposition to the repeal and replacement effort.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has a hearing scheduled for Wednesday on oversight of what appears to be a lack of enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires individuals lobbying on behalf of foreign governments to file paperwork disclosing their business practices.

Paul Manafort, a former chairman of President Donald Trump’s campaign, retroactively registered under FARA for work for a pro-Kremlin political party in Ukraine. Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley has said that at some point, he wants to hear directly from Manafort.

That hearing will be taking place around the same time the Intelligence Committee holds another open hearing, reviewing Trump’s nominations of several senior intelligence community officials, including his choice for principal deputy director of intelligence, Susan Gordon.

The Intelligence panel has been continuing to investigate Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential campaign, as well as the latest revelations of emails from Donald Trump Jr., about him knowingly meeting last June with a Russian lawyer who was purportedly peddling Kremlin dirt on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. (Manafort and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner were reportedly also present at the meeting, among others.)

Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner met Thursday with Christopher Wray, Trump’s nominee to be director of the FBI. The Virginia Democrat said he would support the nominee to replace James B. Comey, whom the president fired in May.

Warner said the committee needs to continue its work even as the health care debate plays out.

“We’ve got to do the Russia investigation. The bipartisan Russia investigation has to continue,” he said.

Warner would not outline a timetable for any public testimony from either Kushner or Trump Jr., and he did not say whether such hearings could take place before the now-delayed August recess.

“We still anticipate talking to Mr. Kushner. We have made a series of document requests. We expect to be receiving those very shortly. We also, as recently as this week, have put out requests to Donald Trump Jr.,” Warner said. “I do think it’s important that we get a chance to review documents first, so the committee has a chance to ask both of these individuals the kind of questions … we want to have the information so we can ask the appropriate questions.”

Joe Williams contributed to this report.