Some Republicans are cautioning against repealing the Affordable Care Act too quickly and urging the party take the foot off the accelerator. The reason: there's no plan on how to replace what they roll back. And while GOP lawmakers are eager to please their base with headlines of Obamacare's repeal, they don't want to be blamed for leaving people without health insurance and chaos in the healthcare market.
Sen. John McCain told reporters Tuesday that he supports taking a slower approach to repealing the law, saying he is "always worried about something that took a long time in the making and we've got to concentrate our efforts to making sure that we do it right so that nobody's left out."
Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House Speaker and a close ally of President-elect Donald Trump, told CNN that a big risk for Republicans is getting blamed for taking away people's health coverage.
"Number one thing (Republicans) have to avoid is putting themselves in a position where Democrats can frighten people -- that somehow, they won't have access to health care because of Republicans," Gingrich said.
Gingrich stressed that before Republicans send a bill repealing Obamacare to Trump's desk, the party must make real progress on a replacement plan. "They have to have bridges to give people a sense of comfort that they're not going to be abandoned," he said.
GOP Sen. Rand Paul cited potential insurance market problems if the law isn't replaced when it is repealed. "If Congress fails to vote on a replacement at the same time as repeal, the repealers risk assuming the blame for the continued unraveling of Obamacare," he said in an op-ed Tuesday
. "For mark my words, Obamacare will continue to unravel and wreak havoc for years to come."
These initial hints of anxiety from Republicans foreshadow an internal GOP tug-of-war on Obamacare in the coming weeks.
For now, party leaders are leaning towards a repeal bill that includes a two- or three-year transition period that would offer a buffer -- a strategy that has been dubbed "repeal and delay."
House and Senate Republicans both started procedural efforts Tuesday
-- the first day of the new session of Congress -- that will lead to overhauling Obamacare.
But healthcare experts warn that even if the repeal doesn't go into effect right away, the uncertainty could lead to insurance companies fleeing the marketplace and potentially putting millions of people's coverage at risk.
In a clear effort to counter some of the early criticism, leaders of the conservative House Republican Study Committee plan to unveil legislation on Wednesday that they argue would both repeal and replace Obamacare.
The bill was previously introduced by GOP Rep. Phil Roe, a physician, and has not been endorsed by leadership. While it is unlikely to emerge as the main Obamacare repeal bill in the House, it marks an effort by conservatives to push back on the suggestion that the party has no replacement plan.
Democrats turn the tables
All of this comes as Democrats are pouncing on the opportunity to turn the tables on Republicans.
Lawmakers are planning a PR blitz throughout the month of January, accusing Republicans for possibly putting millions of Americans' health coverage in jeopardy.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, warned that repeal and delay approach would result in a "chaotic" scene.
"I'm just going to caution again, my friends: Don't repeal this unless there's a bipartisan group," Manchin said. "And if you don't have anything to replace it with, don't put repeal on the board."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
said on a call Monday that the GOP's "repeal and delay" strategy amounts to "an act of cowardice," and warned that Democrats will play no role in helping their colleagues across the aisle replace the ACA.
"It's the old thing of going into a china shop -- you break it, you own it," Pelosi said.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein told CNN on Tuesday that she is in the process of crafting counter-messaging on Obamacare, along the lines of: "Look at what this is going to do to people."
"That's the important thing," she said. "How many people are going to lose their healthcare?"