Republicans ask if they should take Trump literally on Obamacare

Story highlights

  • Trump said he wants Congress to pass an Obamacare repeal bill as early as next week
  • Republicans are worried about repealing the law without a replacement, which they don't have

Washington (CNN)Donald Trump's newest demand Tuesday that Republicans vote immediately to repeal and replace Obamacare -- maybe even as quickly as next week -- had Republican lawmakers struggling to understand the President-elect's intentions.

Given that lawmakers aren't anywhere near having a plan to revamp America's health care system, let alone voting on one, GOP lawmakers are wondering out loud: Should we take the President-elect literally?
"That quote was so true of Mr. Trump: 'The media took him literally but not seriously and his supporters took him seriously but not literally,'" GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy told CNN. "I think he speaks in concepts, and I accept his concept. We need a sense of urgency."
    Trump's New York Times interview came as House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republicans are trying to reassure rank-and-file Republicans who are nervous about repealing the Affordable Care Act too fast when there is not yet an alternative.
    And the timeline Trump is advocating for is considered impossible -- a first procedural vote aimed at repealing Obamacare is slated for some time this week, but a final "repeal" legislation -- a budget reconciliation bill -- is not expected to be voted on for weeks or months.
    Republicans said Tuesday they took Trump's comments thematically, rather than literally.
    "He wants us moving it through so we can put it on his desk right away. I'm not reading it literally, literally," said Rep. Chris Collins of New York, New York congressman also noted that it's simply impossible to repeal and replace Obamacare quickly: "That's an oxymoron."
    North Carolina Rep. Richard Hudson said he agreed with Trump's message to proceed quickly. "Does that means weeks or days? Does it mean hours? We are working through the timing."
    Asked if Trump doesn't understand the process, Hudson simply responded: "The guy's not a politician, he's a businessman."
    The scramble to parse the President-elect's latest Obamacare remarks marked one more twist in what is already a chaotic week for Republicans, as they forge ahead with their top legislative priority of dismantling President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare law.
    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to be pinned down by reporters at a news conference on a timeframe for a vote on the repeal bill or when the replacement measures would be approved.
    "We're working on what comes next," McConnell said. "As I said, we're going to be involved with the administration, the House and the Senate, in crafting a package that we can all agree on that will provide a smooth transition from the disaster we have now to what comes next."
    McConnell declined to provide any other specifics about timing or what would be in the replacement. "What I'm not going to do is negotiate with you the replacement," he told reporters.
    Similarly, the Senate's second-ranking Republican, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, insisted that GOP leaders would not commit to any timeline other than: "ASAP, as soon as possible."
    Sen. Orrin Hatch, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, was asked if Trump's new timeframe could be met.
    Hatch responded that it was "possible," before amending: "It's probably going to be a little later."
    Asked about Trump's demand that a repeal vote happen as quickly as next week, GOP Sen. Susan Collins told CNN: "I don't see how we can have a replacement ready that quickly."
    "That would be very difficult to do," said Collins.