Republican leaders took steps Wednesday to protect their vulnerable senators ahead of an unusual vote that will put them on the record about whether they support the Trump administration’s push to have the Supreme Court strike down the Affordable Care Act and its protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
The GOP move is a clear response to the rare effort by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to seize the floor and force a vote requiring them to make a choice: Support a lawsuit backed by President Donald Trump or side with the law protecting people with pre-existing conditions, which has emerged as a central theme in the battle for control of the Senate and the White House.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled a procedural vote on a Republican bill – authored by vulnerable North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis – that they say would maintain the protections for pre-existing conditions should the Supreme Court toss out the ACA. That would give GOP senators something they can point to as evidence they want to continue those protections and also allow them to vote against and defeat the Democratic bill Thursday.
The Tillis measure stalled Wednesday night on a strictly party line vote, 47 to 47, with Democrats voting against it and Republicans voting to advance it. While Democrats couldn’t get the 51 votes required to kill the bill, it ultimately isn’t going anywhere. It would need 60 votes to pass, which it would not be able to get in the narrowly divided chamber where the GOP has a 53-47 edge.
Democrats call McConnell’s move a “show vote,” arguing that under close scrutiny past bills introduced by Republicans to demonstrate their support for keeping protections for pre-existing conditions fall short of that promise.
“Senate Republicans are once again shopping a do-nothing bill to fool Americans into thinking their loved ones with pre-existing conditions will be protected. The only people covered by this bill are Senate Republicans,” said Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
The back-and-forth comes after Schumer took a step rarely employed – by essentially taking control of the floor from McConnell, who typically controls the Senate schedule – and forced the Thursday procedural vote on the Democratic bill. Democrats are eager to spotlight the attempts by the White House to try to kill the health care law and are looking for ways to push back against the quick confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett before the election, given that the high court will hear the Trump administration’s ACA appeal in November.
Democrats have been forcing small procedural delays in Senate action since Barrett was named, in protest of her nomination, which they don’t have the votes to stop. Democrats are expected to continue to force procedural votes that could force the Senate to return to session next week when senators had been scheduled to be on their pre-election recess.
McConnell and his leadership team are telling their members that the chamber might be in session next week if Democrats don’t cooperate. The topic came up at the Senate GOP lunch earlier Wednesday, according to an attendee.
Since the vacancy arose, Democrats have prevented committees from holding meetings longer than two hours and dragged out a vote on the stopgap resolution to keep the government open until hours before a shutdown would happen.
Asked if the Senate would be in recess next week, as it’s been scheduled, Senate Majority Whip John Thune said: “That’s kind of up to the Democrats.”
There needs to be unanimous consent to set up pro forma sessions – where no business is conducted – during a Senate recess. If the Senate is in session, it’s unclear if there would be any votes. If there are no votes, then senators running for reelection would still be able to campaign back home next week.
This story has been updated with additional developments.