President Donald Trump told Senate Republicans Wednesday they should stay in Washington until they repeal Obamacare, only two days after GOP efforts to enact a new healthcare law collapsed.
“We can repeal, but we should repeal and replace, and we shouldn’t leave town until this is complete—until this bill is on my desk and until we all go over to the Oval Office,” the president told senators at the beginning of a lunch meeting at the White House. “I’ll sign it, and we can all celebrate to the American people.”
“Any senator who votes against debate is really telling America you are fine with Obamacare,” Trump said.
Public opposition from four Republicans on Monday sank Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s repeal and replacement legislation, which he drafted mostly in secret. The Senate plans a procedural vote early next week on a simple repeal of Obamacare with a two-year delay, but that also lacks enough GOP support to advance.
The Senate was originally scheduled to go on its traditional August recess on July 29, but McConnell delayed it by two weeks.
“We are very close again,” Trump said.
Trump directed some joking but pointed remarks to the senators whose opposition sunk McConnell’s plan. To Jerry Moran of Kansas and Mike Lee of Utah, he called them “my friends, they really were and are, they might not be very much longer.”
He also delivered a veiled threat to opponents. Speaking to Dean Heller of Nevada, who opposed the first version of McConnell’s bill, Trump suggested the voters in Nevada would appreciate him voting to replace Obamacare.
“He wants to remain a senator doesn’t he?” Trump asked.
The inability to deliver on seven years of GOP promises to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would be the biggest failure yet for Trump and Republicans since they won control of Congress and the White House.
The president’s approach to the issue has shifted wildly with tweets calling for various strategies in recent days. After it became clear Monday that the Senate healthcare bill did not have the 50 votes needed for passage, Trump said Republicans should vote to repeal Obamacare immediately, and then come up with a replacement plan later.
By Tuesday morning, Trump took to Twitter to support a different tactic—allowing the current healthcare system to collapse before taking action to fix it.
On Wednesday, Trump was once again extolling the virtues of the Senate’s original repeal-and-replace bill, and his allies were saying the president was likely to rally Republicans around that legislation.
“The Republicans never discuss how good their healthcare bill is, and it will get even better at lunchtime,” he tweeted.
Republicans control the Senate 52-48, meaning that McConnell could afford to lose no more than two GOP votes in attempting to pass health legislation. McConnell hasn’t found a way to win over conservative and moderate holdouts seeking to pull the healthcare measure in opposite directions—with conservatives demanding a fuller repeal of Obamacare and moderates seeking to preserve aid to Medicaid patients and people with pre-existing conditions.
Several senators have made clear that they want GOP leaders to pursue an alternative that would require working with Democrats, who are united against a repeal of Obamacare but say they want to work with Republicans to shore up health insurance markets.
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