Alexander, Murray press forward on health care -- with or without Trump

Can Alexander/Murray health care deal pass?
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Can Alexander/Murray health care deal pass? 05:47

Story highlights

  • Trump backed away from the Alexander-Murray bill Wednesday after embracing it Tuesday
  • Alexander spoke to Trump twice Wednesday

(CNN)Two senators determined to pass a short-term Obamacare fix are making it clear that they will forge ahead -- with or without President Donald Trump's explicit backing.

Sens. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, and Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, showed no signs Thursday of giving up on a new bipartisan bill that would guarantee the payment of a critical Obamacare subsidy for two years, despite Trump's sharp criticism their proposal just the day before.
Trump again muddied the waters Thursday afternoon, saying he still wants a long-term reform of the national health care system, but didn't explicitly oppose a short-term measure proposed by Alexander and Murray.
    The senators unveiled a list of bold-faced names as co-sponsors in the hopes of winning broader support from various corners of the Senate and turning around the seemingly tenuous fate of their legislation..
    The new Republican backers include Sens. John McCain, Richard Burr, Joni Ernst, Lindsay Graham, Bob Corker, Bill Cassidy and Lisa Murkowski. Among the Democrats backing the plan are Sens. Claire McCaskill, Al Franken, Amy Klobuchar, Heidi Heitkamp and Tammy Baldwin.
    Alexander also revealed that he had spoken -- for the second time in one day -- with Trump Wednesday evening, and that the President had "encouraged the process" that the senator was pursuing.
    "He said he looks forward to considering it, and I said, 'If you have suggestions for improving it, that's certainly your prerogative to do,'" Alexander said at a committee hearing Thursday.
    Alexander again emphasized that it was the President himself who had personally encouraged the senator to seek a bipartisan deal. "I appreciate the President's encouragement to create a short-term bipartisan solution and his willingness to consider it," he said.
    Despite the senator's optimistic tone, the bipartisan health care deal appears not far from the brink of collapse -- in no small part because of Trump.

    Trump all over the place -- again

    Trump appeared to once again signal that he may support the bipartisan legislation.
    Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office Thursday, the President indicated he would support the legislation as a "short term solution," but also once again emphasized that any legislation that boosts insurance companies would be unacceptable.
    "We will probably like a very short term solution until we hit the block grants," Trump said, referring to his ultimate goal of replacing Obamacare with a plan that includes a block grant system for Medicaid.
    "I like people working on plans all the time," Trump said. "Anything they're working on will be short term. It will absolutely be short term. ... Because ultimately it's going to be repeal and replace."
    Ultimately, here's where he landed: "If they can do something like that I'm open to it but I don't want it to be at the expense of the people. I want to take care of our people, I don't want to take care of the insurance companies."
    It was the latest in a series of course reversals that Trump has made on the Alexander-Murray deal in the span of a few days.
    When the framework of the plan was initially announced, Trump called it a short-term "solution" and said that the White House had been involved in crafting it.
    But soon after, Trump tweeted that he could "never support bailing out" insurance companies -- dealing a sudden blow to the bill.
    The President's zigzag had much to do with the pushback he received from aides and conservatives, multiple sources said.
    One conservative leader who spoke with top White House officials this week to share his strong opposition to the Alexander-Murray deal said he didn't mince words -- and warned that if Congress passes the bill, "it would be a grenade going off on tax reform."
    Angering key conservative lawmakers like Sens. Ted Cruz or Mike Lee would be a "debacle," this person conveyed to White House officials, and would have a domino effect of badly hurting the GOP's ability to do anything substantial going forward, including tax reform.
    In his conversation with White House officials, this person also put heavy emphasis on how Alexander-Murray would anger conservatives.
    "Boy, you talk about further inflaming the base. ... Not keeping the word to the base on repealing Obamacare, and if you then work with 48 Democrats in the Senate to give billions of dollars in subsidies to keep Obamacare markets operating -- can you imagine how the base would react to them?" the person said.
    For now, GOP leaders have not indicated that there would be a vote on Alexander-Murray -- some have gone so far as to suggest that the legislation was as good as dead.
    "At the moment it looks like everything has stalled out," Sen. John Thune, the third highest ranking Republican in the Senate, said Wednesday. "So we'll see ‎where it goes from here, if there's a will to kind of put it together and see if there's a path forward."