Priebus and Bannon dispatched Lewandowski and Bossie to Capitol Hill
Lee on Monday night helped kill GOP hopes of passing the Senate's health care bill
Senate Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare were quickly sinking on Tuesday after one-too-many Republican senators voiced their opposition to the legislation being pushed by GOP leaders.
But the White House wasn’t ready to abandon the bill that would repeal and immediately replace Obamacare, instead turning to trusted allies outside the administration to make another push.
White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon on Tuesday dispatched former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and former deputy campaign manager David Bossie to Capitol Hill to meet with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, in an attempt to revive the health care reform bill Senate Republican leaders abandoned the same day, a White House official and source familiar with the meeting told CNN.
A day later, President Donald Trump publicly urged Republican senators during a White House luncheon to continue work on a bill to repeal and immediately replace Obamacare Wednesday.
Lewandowski and Bossie met with Lee, who on Monday night killed GOP hopes of passing the Senate’s Obamacare replacement measure by announcing his opposition to the bill. The Lee meeting marked a new turn in the White House’s struggling efforts to whip enough Senate GOP votes to repeal Obamacare and pass health care reform.
But when Lewandowski and Bossie sat down with Lee on Tuesday, the conversation focused not on the standalone repeal effort – which Lee has said he would support – but instead on addressing Lee’s concerns with the Senate’s replacement plan, a Lee aide said.
Lee spoke with Trump – after the meeting with Bossie and Lewandowski – to discuss “how to get a good repeal bill passed,” the Lee aide said.
That discussion also centered on how to win back Lee’s support for the Senate replacement plan, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he was abandoning.
The Lee aide said Bossie and Lewandowski were clearly acting as “emissaries” or “agents” of the White House. The former campaign hands also met with Trump at the White House on Tuesday.
Bossie and Lewandowski have remained the President’s loyal allies and trusted advisers, both shuttling to the White House regularly to meet with Trump and top White House aides. The two also remain top administration surrogates on television.
Rumors have swirled that the two men may soon join the administration, but so far both have remained on the outside. Bossie currently serves as president of the conservative advocacy group Citizens United and Lewandowski maintains a private consulting business.
Lewandowski and Bossie did not return requests for comment, and a White House spokesperson declined to provide details of Bossie and Lewandowski’s meetings at the White House on Tuesday.
The pairs involvement also came as Trump allies’ frustration with the White House’s legislative affairs team has mounted in recent months amid repeated stumbles and failures to wrangle Republicans to support a legislative effort that Republicans initially deemed a certain success.
That frustration – from Trump loyalists on Capitol Hill and around Washington – bubbled up again on Monday night after Lee and Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas announced their opposition to the Senate health care bill soon after Trump wrapped a dinner with Republican senators and caught the White House off guard.
Two former Trump campaign aides told CNN they have fielded calls from members of Congress who have been longtime Trump supporters who complained about lackluster engagement from the White House legislative affairs team.
And the aides said Lee and Moran’s sudden rebuke of the latest iteration of the health care bill should not have caught the White House off guard as it did and said it signaled a lack of respect for the White House.
“Nobody respects the White House,” one former campaign aide and Washington operator said. “It’s so frustrating.”
This story has been updated.