Three GOP senators have publicly opposed the bill
Republicans can only lose two members and still pass it
One idea is to attach it to tax reform legislation
By Monday afternoon, it was the worst-kept secret on Capitol Hill: the latest GOP health care bill was headed for failure.
Even before Sen. Susan Collins of Maine officially opposed the bill, Republican aides spoke knowingly about its impending death. Senators talked openly of new ways and avenues to take another crack at repealing President Barack Obama’s cornerstone domestic achievement.
One Republican senator, speaking to CNN, repeatedly referred to the bill in the past tense. When it was pointed out to him, he chuckled, pointed to himself and said: “Realist.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who had pushed relentlessly for a vote on the bill he co-authored – even appearing to announce a scheduled vote at one point last week – was circumspect about its future. Would it get a vote?
“Don’t know,” he said simply.
And seventh-term senator Orrin Hatch, a veteran of more legislative battles than most can remember, sounded like, well, a seventh-term senator.
“I doubt it,” Hatch told reporters bluntly when he was asked if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would put the bill on the floor for a vote.
The only people on Capitol Hill who appeared to genuinely believe Republicans could find a new path forward were Democrats, burned so many times by calling the death of the repeal effort, only to see it spring back to life.
While the repeal effort has risen from the dead before – several times – most in the chamber were resigned that this time would be was unlikely to get a hold of phoenix-like properties before the September 30 deadline to move the bill with 50 votes to beat a Democratic filibuster.
Collins was an immovable “no.” As was Sen. John McCain. Sen. Rand Paul, who has been consistently chattered about as the most likely to come around by those off Capitol Hill, was viewed on the Hill as intractable on the issue. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was still studying the proposal and opposed the July measure, was viewed as unlikely to come around. Sen. Ted Cruz was against the proposal after language he thought had been agreed upon didn’t make it in the revised draft.
Even the President, forever the vote-counting optimist in public and at various points convinced he could sway Paul, seemed resigned to things during a Monday radio interview.
“When you lose two, you’re out. We don’t have much of a margin,” Trump said. “We don’t have any margin.”
Monday night, Trump directed his ire at McCain.
“A few of the many clips of John McCain talking about Repealing & Replacing O’Care. My oh my has he changed-complete turn from years of talk!” Trump tweeted.
How to keep going
Lawmakers were openly discussing taking another run at a repeal effort in whatever way they could find.
Asked if he thought there was a future for the repeal effort, Cruz was steadfast.
“We must keep working and we can get to yes,” the Texas Republican told CNN.
What if it’s not by the Sept. 30 deadline?
“We should keep working until we get to yes,” Cruz said.
One avenue being discussed by lawmakers like Graham and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is using the fiscal 2018 budget to try again, in the form of tacking it onto the tax reform instructions.
That concept comes to the horror GOP lawmakers and lobbyists cognizant not only of how difficult tax reform will be, but petrified of adding health care back into the mix.
“Hate Obamacare, but let’s not strangle tax reform in its crib just out of frustration,” one GOP lobbyist texted about the idea.
McConnell, for his part, took the Senate floor to once again assail Obamacare on Monday and compliment Graham and co-sponsor Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, but did not comment further. In fact, he hasn’t commented at all in the wake of McCain’s opposition, which sent hopes for the bill into a tailspin Friday afternoon.
Aides and colleagues say he wants to wait until his conference has time to weigh in during their Tuesday closed-door lunch before any next steps are announced.
“I think we are going to have to have a meeting of our conference tomorrow at noon so we can sort of see where everybody is on this before there will be any news,” Sen. John Cornyn, McConnell’s top deputy, told reporters.
Another disappointment for McConnell
McConnell is now confronted with something he never had any intention of facing: another public failure on health care. The Kentucky Republican made very clear in the immediate aftermath of the bill’s spectacular July failure that it was time “to move on.” Several reauthorization bills were in the queue. A raft of nominees were ready to go. A real, unified, concerted push to secure the first major tax overhaul in 31 years, the ultimate prize after health care’s collapse, was just over the horizon.
But was his own conference that brought him back to the issue, aides say, returning from August recess and making clear, in a closed-door conference meeting, that they wanted to give it another shot. They’d gotten an earful back home – from both constituents and donors – and the Graham-Cassidy proposal appeared closed to ready. McConnell, even as he remained keenly aware of the ideological divides inside his conference on the issue, gave it the green light and deployed his team to try and get it to the 50 votes that had eluded the conference six weeks earlier. A leader who leans heavily on reflecting the consensus of his of his conference, McConnell was willing to try again.
Even over the weekend, after McCain’s second (more figurative) thumbs down leadership aides said McConnell was “all in” as they tried to find a path forward.
Now McConnell again is faced again with a complicated reality. It’s clear that the same members of his conference that wanted to give health care another shot aren’t done with the idea. But on Graham-Cassidy, what was well-known to seemingly all throughout the day on Monday seemed to become crystal clear by Monday night.
On the opposite side of the Capitol, Rep. Mark Walker, a North Carolina Republican and chairman of the Republican Study Committee, was planning to announce the group’s support Tuesday for the Senate proposal, but the group wanted to see any new changes would be made. Or, perhaps more importantly Walker said: “if there’s still going to be any life left.”
“Right now it looks like they getting ready to unplug the machine.”
CNN’s Ted Barrett, Deirdre Walsh, Sunlen Serfaty, Lauren Fox and MJ Lee contributed to this report.