Cameron Joseph contributed reporting.
Republican’s seven-years-and-counting crusade to repeal the Affordable Care Act did not end with Friday morning’s nail-biter of a failed vote.
Though Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) essentially admitted defeat after three Republican defections tanked the GOP’s last-ditch effort to pass something out of the Senate and get to conference with the House, and despite most Republican members leaving the chamber despondent and resigned, others defiantly stated the obvious: They will keep trying, possibly forever, to dismantle President Obama’s health care legacy.
“This journey is not yet done,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) announced minutes after the vote went down in flames. “I believe Obamacare will be repealed.”
Over on the House side, Republicans made the same point, detailing specific ways they may attempt to keep the dream alive.
“I believe that we can deliver still on health care,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), the chair of the influential, hardline Freedom Caucus, insisted to reporters on Friday. “To suggest that everything is over is not understanding the dynamics that are going on right now in the Senate.”
Meadows, who has been in close consultation with Senate conservatives for months, said they plan to get Congressional Budget Office scores on proposals from Sens. Cruz, Rob Portman (R-OH), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA), allowing them to tuck those policies back into the same comprehensive Trumpcare bill that failed in the Senate earlier this week.
“You can still do the motion to proceed, then can bring that back up at this particular point,” Meadows emphasized. “This is just one try on the Senate side. We probably have two more tries before we have to pack it up and go home.”
Though Republicans admitted the votes this week were a major setback, and some have openly thrown in the towel on repeal and are instead advocating for a bipartisan process to fix the health care markets, we have seen before how Republicans’ long-term effort to undo Obamacare can go underground—bubbling below the surface for months until they feel the time is ripe to try again.
We saw it in the House, where just a few weeks after Ryan canceled a doomed repeal vote and announced that “Obamacare is the law of the land,” a furious round of vote-whipping and horse-trading brought the bill back from the dead. Similar back-room negotiations could drag on in the Senate for months or years to come.
Senate leaders may also have an eye on the 2018 midterm elections, where Democrats have to play defense on far more seats than Republicans. If the GOP can win even one or two more seats, they may have the votes they need to muscle through some version of an Obamacare repeal bill.