Trump’s Hill Offensive on Obamacare Falls Short

President fails to win AHCA converts after singling out conservatives with 2018 warning

by Jim Stinson | Updated 21 Mar 2017 at 12:57 PM

President Donald Trump zipped into the U.S. Capitol Tuesday morning, lobbying Republican members of the House of Representatives to pass the repeal of Obamacare in a crucial vote on Thursday.

As he spoke to Republicans on Tuesday morning for about 45 minutes, Trump, as he often does, singled out his critics.

“[Trump] talked to us … He said we would lose the House and the Senate if we don’t get this passed.”

In particular, Trump asked Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative-leaning House Freedom Caucus, to stand.

Trump told Meadows that he remembered Meadows being an early supporter in North Carolina. The president warned the conservative members of the Freedom Caucus, who oppose the current bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, that they are risking their own seats in the 2018 elections.

He also made a few other Republicans stand as he spoke to them, urging them to join a majority of their Republican caucus in the repeal efforts.

“It was certainly not a teleprompter-scripted speech,” Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) told LifeZette during a small gaggle with reporters. “He talked to us … He said we would lose the House and the Senate if we don’t get this passed.”

Collins said the New York delegation is delighted the House Republicans added a Medicaid amendment to the American Health Care Act that will stop cost-shifting from New York to the state’s Upstate and Long Island counties. Collins said the amendment will save New York counties money without extracting money from federal taxpayers.

Collins said the president promised if Republicans pass the AHCA, the first step in repealing Obamacare, the party would go on to great success in the midterm elections. Trump even said Republicans could pick up 10 Senate seats.

But despite the hard sell and the optimistic political pitch, Trump failed to convince many members of the conservative Freedom Caucus.

“I’m still a no,” said Meadows, as he walked through a Capitol basement.

Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) said he wants the Trump presidency to be a success, but he was also a “no” vote. Brat told LifeZette that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) does not have the votes to pass the bill.

The House Republicans have 237 seats. If they lose more than 19 votes, the bill could be sunk. All 193 Democrats are likely to oppose repeal.

“I think if we [pass] this, we will lose the majority,” said Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.).

And bad news came for the White House after Trump left. The influential conservative Heritage Action organization said it is not just opposing the AHCA — it will also be “key-voting” against it. That means the vote for AHCA will be used in calculating Heritage scorecards for members of Congress.

The AHCA will be the first Heritage Action “key vote” of this Congress.

Freshman Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.), not a member of the Freedom Caucus, later announced he would vote against the bill. An avowed foe of Obamacare, Budd said “as currently written, I cannot support the American Health Care Act. This bill leaves the structure of Obamacare in place and does not provide the relief that North Carolina families need from high premiums.”

Yet for the Republicans already leaning yes, Trump’s speech was an enthusiastic rally for repeal of the hated Obamacare, the first real chance Republicans have had since the law passed in 2010.

Republicans realize their more conservative peers believe the bill is only one part of Obamacare repeal. The Trump administration hopes to pass a second package of deregulatory reforms through executive action made through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Then Republicans hope to pass a third package through the normal legislative process. The American Health Care Act is a budget reconciliation vote, and cannot be filibustered in the Senate. The third phase of the plan can be filibustered.

It’s why U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has been telling people the “third phase” is wishful thinking. Some Republicans believe the Democrats will filibuster reforms in the third phase.

Collins refuted Cotton’s remarks, speaking to LifeZette.

“This is a binary choice,” said Collins. “The Democrats do want some changes … I think that’s a pessimistic view that I don’t agree with.”

House Republicans who support the repeal through the AHCA said they are surprised the most vocal critics of Obamacare — the conservative Freedom Caucus — may be the ones who keep it alive — for now.

“I think you have to recognize the limitations of [budget] reconciliation,” said Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.). “I’m a realist.”

  1. American Health Care Act
  2. Chris Collins
  3. Congress
  4. Dave Brat
  5. Donald Trump
  6. Heritage Action
  7. Mark Meadows
  8. Paul Ryan
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