The ongoing saga to repeal Obamacare continues, and with just hours left until a critical vote, the sheer chaos has never been greater.
On Monday, Trump remained defiant warning Senate Republicans that anyone who votes not to take up debate of the bill today is saying they are “fine with the Obamacare nightmare.” Realistically, Republicans have been struggling to find a replacement plan that can attract >50 votes in the Senate, even though the party has a 52-48 majority. Nonetheless, Senator Cornyn appears to be fighting to the end, noting yesterday that “if for some reason we aren’t able to muster the votes tomorrow…it’s not the end of it….”
Still, in what Bloomberg described as an “uncharacteristic gamble” for Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Senate GOP Leadership, the Senate is set to hold a crucial procedural vote to open debate on the Republican plan to undo ObamaCare without knowing A) which plan they will be voting for B) if the vote will pass. But by insisting on a vote, Trump and the leadership are playing a game of political chicken, forcing lawmakers to either publicly proclaim their opposition to the president, incurring the wrath of his supporters and maybe even a primary challenge, or show their support.
Or maybe not: as Citi describes today's main political event, "there's some confusion on what version of the bill will be voted on. The vote is on a procedural vote i.e. to allow the Senate to proceed to debate on the House-passed healthcare bill, which would then be followed by an open amendment process. Thus its the first step of a long road for repeal and replace healthcare legislation."
As one anonymous Senate aide "clarified" to the Hill: “Sometimes you have to stand up and be counted. You have to have a clarifying vote, and McConnell has done that before.” The problem is for the GOP, some have to be counted twice.
Right now, Susan Collins of Maine is the only confirmed “no” vote against beginning debate on either of the two plans: the Senate’s latest bill to repeal-and-replace, and its plan for a straight repeal. As many as seven other Republican Senators remain undecided on one or both measures, according to the New York Times. Meanwhile, Trump has embraced the bully pulpit, threatening holdout Republicans on Monday in a series of tweets, and a statement from the Blue Room of the White House, where the president surrounded himself with “victims of Obamacare." He reminded Republicans that they made a “promise” to repeal and replace Obamacare seven years ago, then excoriated the holdouts for “not doing their jobs.”
“So far Senate Republicans have not done their job in ending the Obamacare nightmare, but now they have a chance to fix what has been broken this whole time,” Trump said.
He also took a few moments to bash Democrats as “obstructionist.” Unfortunately, lawmakers who ultimately vote in favor of either measure risk incurring the wrath of an organization that some believe holds more sway with voters than the White House: The AARP.
“AARP, the powerful lobby group that represents older Americans, urged the Senate to reject the measure and said it would communicate to members in key states how their senators voted.
“We will report to all 38 million AARP members how their Senators vote, via ads, our print publications, social media and more,” the group said Monday night on Twitter.”
According to the Hill, a recent Associated Press–NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found that 27% of Republicans favor immediate repeal of Obamacare, while 54% want to repeal the law once there’s agreement on replacement legislation. And many conservative grassroots groups appear to support Trump’s plan. Jenny Beth Martin, the co-founder of the grassroots group Tea Party Patriots, told Bloomberg that, while it appears McConnell doesn’t have the votes, he is pushing “really hard” and that he’s working with the president to paint holdouts as supporters of the “status quo,” according to the Hill.
“His message is senators need to be for the motion to proceed or they’re for the status quo,” said Martin, who attended the meeting. “He would not be pushing it so hard, probably, if he had the votes lined up already.”
While there’s a slim chance McConnell could pull together a last-minute deal, it’s widely expected that, even if he succeeds in marshalling enough votes to begin debate, McConnell likely won’t be able to count on that support for a final up-down vote, according to Bloomberg. Furthermore, the Senate leadership is still considering last-minute changes to win the support of certain holdouts, like Pat Roberts of Kansas.
“Roberts said his main concern is the effect of spending cuts on rural hospitals that get Medicaid funds. ‘Under the current system, they’re just not going to be able to make it,’ Roberts said. ‘We’ve just got to figure out a way to make that work better.’
He said he was in touch over the weekend with Seema Verma, the Trump administration’s head of Medicare and Medicaid, and that her proposal to make up some funding with non-Medicaid money has potential.
‘It’s awfully difficult when people climb the tree and get out on a limb and say, ‘I’m going to vote no,’ the Kansas senator said. ‘For them to skinny back down that tree, that’s tough. And they have to have some very good reasons as to why that’s the case.’”
Even if the vote fails, there’s still some upside for McConnell, and maybe even Trump: It would demonstrate that what the Hill calls options A, B and C – the House plan, the Senate plan and straight-up repeal – aren’t viable, forcing the administration to consider a fourth option – moving on to another issue like "tax reform", although many Wall Street strategists have contended that a failure to repeal Obamacare would only make tax reform even more difficult, if not impossible.
At the end of the week, moving the agenda - any agenda - forward with or without a “1” in the points column will be McConnell’s biggest accomplishment.
As for today, here is Trump's summary tweeted out moments ago:
This will be a very interesting day for HealthCare.The Dems are obstructionists but the Republicans can have a great victory for the people!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017