Worried that an unexpected vote delay will doom the Republican healthcare bill, President Trump is ramping up his efforts to sway GOP senators after being largely absent from the legislative process in recent weeks.
Trump called wayward Republican senators over the weekend and hosted others Monday evening at White House.
Despite a rocky relationship, he even sent best wishes to Sen. John McCain, whose sudden surgery forced the delay. The president joked that he missed McCain’s “crusty voice” in the Capitol.
More likely, Trump realizes Republicans are just one “no” vote away from seeing their Obamacare overhaul fail.
“We hope John McCain gets better very soon because we miss him,” Trump said at the White House. “Plus, we need his vote.”
He added, “And we need a number of votes.”
It remains to be seen whether Trump’s engagement will help nudge Republican senators who remain deeply skeptical of their own party’s healthcare plan.
The delay could offer needed time to bolster support, or it could push the teetering bill to collapse. More often than not, extra time serves only to doom controversial legislation, which is why GOP leaders have tried to rush the process with self-imposed deadlines.
Senators returned to work Monday to an uncertain outlook as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised a vote would come as soon as McCain returns. The Arizona senator is recovering from surgery to remove a blood clot over his eye.
“Look, we need to tackle this problem,” McConnell said of Obamacare as he opened the Senate on Monday.
Even before the delay, it was unclear whether McConnell would be able to marshal the support needed from his 52-seat majority to advance the bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Two Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky, already have said they will vote against.
As many as 10 Republican senators have yet to commit to the legislation, which has drawn scant public or political support.
Trump had not visibly played a role in rallying support for the Senate legislation as he did when a similar bill was passed in the House.
But over the weekend, the president called conservatives to sway their vote, including Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).
The next pressure point may come when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office releases its latest assessment of the legislation, which was expected Monday but also delayed. A CBO report of the original Senate bill estimated 22 million more Americans would lack health coverage by 2026, drawing widespread criticism.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged Republicans to use the delay to hold public hearings with experts to produce legislation that Democrats could also support.
“When you don’t have hearings, when you try to hide a bill, it usually results in poor legislation. That’s what’s happening now,” Schumer said. “A bill done behind closed doors, a handful of senators, even Republicans senators didn’t know what they were putting together. It doesn’t work.”
Virtually every major patient organization, physician and hospital group, and consumer advocate has denounced the Senate bill.
The problem McConnell faces is in bridging the divide between conservative senators who complain the bill does not go far enough in gutting Obamacare, and centrists who remain worried about the steep cuts to Medicaid.
An amendment from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was supposed to bring wayward conservatives on board, but raised fresh concerns that it goes too far in eliminating the Affordable Care Act’s protections for Americans with preexisiting health conditions.
Lee, a conservative Cruz ally, wants an even tougher version of Cruz’s amendment and made those concerns clear in recent talks with the White House. The president encouraged the Utah senator to try to get the changes he was seeking into the bill as an amendment.
But senators are skeptical their amendments will be included in the final version.
Any further changes to please conservatives are likely to do little to help senators concerned about the Medicaid cuts, including Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, where as many as 200,000 people could lose coverage.
Meanwhile, protesters continue to descend on the Capitol in Washington, with rallies planned this week featuring patients who stand to lose coverage.
At the same time, national polls show the Republican legislation is increasingly unpopular.
More than twice as many Americans favor the current healthcare law over the GOP’s alternative, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC poll.
And though self-identified Republicans continue to back the GOP repeal push, independents strongly oppose it.
As Senate Republican healthcare bill teeters, Trump steps up efforts to woo lawmakers