With a House vote on the GOP bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act just over the horizon, President Donald Trump on Tuesday morning huddled in the basement of the Capitol to pressure a divided Republican caucus to fall in line.
Lawmakers exiting the meeting told reporters that Trump bluntly told them their seats would be in jeopardy in 2018 if they did not vote “yes” Thursday on the American Health Care Act.
“He said, ‘Y’all ran on repealing Obamacare. Looks like you’d be ripe for a primary if you don’t keep your promise,'” Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) said. “And I think he made the sale. I think he moved a handful of votes. We know we have a historic opportunity to get stuff done, and we can’t blow it. I’d hate to go back home to Texas and say I had the opportunity to repeal Obamacare and I didn’t.”
“The President’s message was that the American people are counting on us to repeal Obamacare and this is our one chance to do it,” Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC) added. “And if we fail, there will be consequences for our party and for us as individuals. He did not threaten to go recruit primary opponents, but it was a warning that it was likely if we don’t keep our promise, we’d be held accountable.”
Several lawmakers confirmed that Trump also singled out Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), the chair of the hardline conservative Freedom Caucus and an outspoken critic of the bill, for some public arm twisting. Farenthold characterized it as “banter.”
Chuckling, he added: “That was fun to watch.”
Meadows (pictured above), for his part, told reporters that he doesn’t mind being called out by name by the leader of the free world. He asserted that there are “more than enough” members in the Freedom Caucus who oppose the bill to block it from clearing the crucial 216 vote threshold it needs on Thursday.
“I’m still a no,” he said, “because the bill that we’re currently considering does not lower premiums for the vast majority of Americans, and that’s what we need to do.”
The Congressional Budget Office found that the AHCA would sharply raise health care premiums for many older Americans, potentially pricing them out of the insurance market altogether.
Meadows was similarly unmoved by changes to the bill unveiled late Monday night, which increased tax credits for people age 50 to 64 and boosted Medicaid spending for older and disabled beneficiaries, among other provisions.
“What changes?” snarked Meadows when asked about the proposed amendments. He later added that he hoped the Freedom Caucus could still negotiate and make changes to the bill before Thursday’s vote, “but if everyone’s entrenched at this particular point, it’s going to be a very difficult 48 hours.”
Monday night’s changes did win over some who had been on the fence, though, including Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), the co-chair of the moderate Republican Tuesday Group.
“The change in Medicaid sounds small, but it’s close to $150 billion in increased spending on the people that need it the most,” he told reporters. “Look, does every group get everything they want [in the bill]? No. But if you’re negotiating in good faith and you get a large amount of what you want, it’s time to come around and support.”
Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.