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Tierney Sneed

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.

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Few lawmakers are happy, at least publicly, with the impending destruction of the Supreme Court filibuster in Senate. But no one can really agree on what it would have taken to avoid it.

Now that the GOP’s invocation of the so-called “nuclear option” on Supreme Court nominees seems inevitable, the days leading into the final confirmation vote for Judge Neil Gorsuch have a turned into a blame game over where things went wrong for the Senate and what it means for the Supreme Court down the road.

“We’re on a path towards having a majority likely to chose to change the rules rather than … change the nominee or negotiate with us. And that would be really unfortunate. I think it has some lasting negative consequence for the Senate,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), who announced Monday he’d filibuster Gorsuch, giving Democrats the final vote they needed to block an up-or-down floor vote on the nomination.

“Here’s the effects of doing away with the filibuster on judges,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters last week. “You’re going to get more ideological choices, because you don’t have to reach across the aisle and the Senate is going to become even more contested.”

The current posturing is made up of equal parts partisan outrage and resignation that this moment was a long time coming. Republicans decried the erosion of a Senate norm, while steadfastly promising to go “nuclear” on the Supreme Court filibuster if Democrats did indeed mount one. Democrats re-litigated the Republican obstruction of Obama nominee Merrick Garland, even as they swore that their current opposition to Gorsuch was on the merits of his nomination.

“It’s both sides that have taken us to this place,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) told reporters last week. “We will end up with Reid breaking the rules to change the rules, McConnell breaking the rules to change the rules.”

Corker noted that ending the filibuster on legislation would likely be next. “It will just take one tough legislative issue coming up and somebody else will do it,” Corker said. “I think we all know that’s where we’re heading.”

Democrats have been heading in the direction of a filibuster of Gorsuch since Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY)  indicated last month he was in favor of one. But the seeds were planted long before that, in years of escalating political battles around judicial confirmations that culminated with the GOP’s blockade last year of Garland.

A lack of trust, particularly for what comes after the Gorsuch nomination, prevented lawmakers from coming to an agreement that would have avoided the invocation of the nuclear option. The fear on both sides is that there was nothing to stop the cycle from repeating itself — Dems vowing a filibuster, Republicans responding by going nuclear — for Trump’s next Supreme Court nomination.

Even Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), a moderate Republicans whose discomfort with nixing the filibuster has been apparent, said Monday that he didn’t see an escape route from the current deadlock.

“I’d rather change the behavior of senators rather than change the Senate rules,” Flake told TPM. “I don’t know what kind of deal could be struck. You can maybe convince a few to change their minds. But what would they promise? Not to filibuster the next one?”

One idea that had been floated, according to a Politico report last month, was an agreement in which Democrats would provide the eight votes needed to avoid a filibuster of Gorsuch, while at least three Republicans vowed not to vote in favor of a nuclear option for a vacancy later in Trump’s term.

By Monday, members on both sides of the aisle said discussions of ways to avoid the nuclear option had failed.

“Plenty of conversations happened, but it didn’t come to fruition and [Democrats] had enough [votes] to declare [a filibuster] and now it’s over,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who participated in the so-called Gang of 14 that thwarted the use of “nuclear option” in the mid-2000s.

“Over all there’s no cooperation,” McCain said when asked by such a deal wasn’t achievable this time around. “It’s a whole lot of factors including angry people, reapportionment, gerrymandering, none of it good.”

Coons blamed Republicans’ blockade of Garland specifically for putting lawmakers “in a place where it’s very hard to trust each other and come to an agreement.”

“As I have talked to my colleagues in the last week, [there was] a pretty broadly-shared sense that this is a stolen seat and that simply threatening us with changing the rules rather than engaging with us has not been a good approach to this confirmation,” Coons said.

Likewise, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), coming out of Monday’s committee vote, told TPM that the prospects of a deal to avoid the nuclear option weren’t “very realistic” because “Mitch [McConnell] has been planning for this eventuality ever since he stopped Garland.”

“If he gets enough blowback from Republicans who say, ‘For Pete’s sake Mitch, try to work something out so we don’t have to do that’, then something might happen,” Whitehouse said.

That seemed far from likely. In a press conference with Judiciary Committee Republicans after Monday’s vote,  Graham said flatly “no” when asked for the possibility of a deal.

“We’re just asking them to do what we did for [Supreme Court justices Sonia] Sotomayor and [Elena] Kagan. They came to the floor without a 60-vote requirement,” Graham said, referring to the so-called “cloture vote,” which requires 60 votes to end debate, that Democrats will use to filibuster Gorsuch.

Nevertheless, many Republicans would have preferred it had not come to this, and some tried to avoid saying directly whether they would vote for the nuclear option, a feeling that was evident when most of the GOP members on the Judiciary Committee declined to declare their intention to vote for the nuclear option when asked for a show of hands by a reporter Monday.

“We’re not going to show hands,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the majority whip and a Judiciary Committee member, said.

President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, cleared an important hurdle to the nation’s highest bench with the Senate Judiciary Committee’s party-line 11-9 vote Monday to advance his confirmation to the Senate floor. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats secured the numbers to filibuster Gorsuch before his up-or-down floor vote slated for later this week.

“Judge Gorsuch is eminently qualified. He’s a mainstream judge who’s earned the universal respect of his colleagues on the bench and in the bar,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said in his opening remarks before the vote.

It was expected that Gorsuch would sail through the committee vote. Still, Monday’s meeting brought the announcements from enough Democrats, including committee’s top Dem, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), that they would oppose Gorsuch and join their colleagues in filibustering Gorsuch to put Democrats at the 41-vote threshold to oppose what is known as cloture.

“Our job is to assess whether the nominee will protect the legal and constitutional rights of all Americans, and whether the nominee recognizes the humanity and justice required when evaluating the cases before him,” Feinstein said. “Unfortunately, based on Judge Gorsuch’s record at the Department of Justice, his tenure on the bench, his appearance before the Senate and his written questions for the record, I cannot support this nomination.”

Monday’s vote brings the confirmation battle one step closer to a major  showdown over long-standing Senate procedural rules. Led by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Democrats have promised to filibuster Gorsuch.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has returned those filibuster threats with hints that he will lead his caucus in getting rid of the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees altogether, the so-called “nuclear option.”

“What I can tell you is that Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed this week,” McConnell said Sunday on Meet the Press. “How that happens really depends on our Democratic friends, how many of them are willing to oppose cloture on a partisan basis to kill a Supreme Court nominee, never happened before in history, the whole history of the country.”

In addition to the Judiciary Committee Democrats who announced at Monday’s vote their plans to filibuster Gorsuch, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) released a statement indicating his intention to vote against cloture. Judiciary Committee member Sen. Chris Coons’s (D-DE) announcement towards the end of Monday’s meeting that would filibuster Gorsuch pushed Democrats to the 41 votes they need to block the judge from receiving an up-or-down vote under current Senate rules.

“I am not ready to end debate on this issue, so I will be voting against cloture unless we are able, as a body, to finally sit down and find a way to avoid the nuclear option,” Coons said.

Gorsuch moved through his confirmation hearings last month without major scandal or political misstep, but many Democrats are not yet willing to let their GOP counterparts off the hook for Republicans’ unprecedented blockade of President Obama’s nominee for the vacancy, Judge Merrick Garland. They have also raised concerns about Gorsuch’s conservative legal approach, oft-compared to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who Gorsuch would replace. Democrats have also bashed Gorsuch for dodging their questions during the confirmation process and have taken issue with the dark money campaign that is supporting his nomination.

Schumer, also appearing Sunday on Meet the Press, predicted that it was “highly unlikely” Gorsuch would get the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture and avoid the filibuster.

“It looks like Gorsuch will not reach the 60-vote margin,” Schumer said. “So instead of changing the rules, which is up to Mitch McConnell and the Republican majority, why doesn’t President Trump, Democrats, and Republicans in the Senate, sit down, and try to come up with a mainstream nominee?​”

Gorsuch, 49, hails from Colorado where he sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

As President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, was set to clear a Senate Judiciary Committee vote Monday advancing his confirmation, Democrats secured the votes to to filibuster the judge on the Senate floor later this week, at which point it is believed that Republicans will trigger the so-called “nuclear option” to eliminate the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees.

“I cannot vote solely to protect an institution when the rights of hard-working Americans are at risk. Because I fear that the Senate I would be defending no longer exists,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said at Monday’s Judiciary Committee meeting, in remarks that bashed Republicans for their unprecedented blockade of Obama nominee Merrick Garland last year.

“I’ve often said that the Senate — at its best — can be and should be the conscience of the nation. But I must first and foremost vote my conscience, vote today and later this week. My conscience will not allow me to ratify the majority leader’s actions,” Leahy said.

Leahy had been critical of Gorsuch, but before Monday’s meeting, was considered wobbly on the question of whether to block the judge from receiving an up-or-down floor vote. At Monday’s meeting, the committee’s ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) also announced their plans to filibuster Gorsuch. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), who is not on the committee, sent a statement out during the meeting announcing his plans to vote against what is known as cloture, and thus filibuster the judge. Those announcements pushed Democrats to the 41-vote threshold to filibuster Gorsuch.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has made clear that he would respond to a Democratic filibuster by going nuclear, changing the Senate rules to prohibit filibusters of Supreme Court nominees, a change which requires just a simple majority vote. Even the Republicans known to be institutionalists have indicated they would vote in favor of the nuclear option if need be.

“This will be the last person that will be subject to a filibuster, which was in effect in 1948, because the Senate traditions are going to change over this man based on the times in which we live,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said at Monday’s Judiciary committee meeting. “And I find ironic and sad that we’re going to change the rules over somebody who has lived such a good life, who has been such a good judge for such a long time.”

The impending destruction of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees was a long time coming. Republicans blame Democrats for sinking Reagan nominee Robert Bork in 1987 over concerns about his hard-right ideology, though some Republicans voted against Bork in the up-or-down floor vote as well. Partisanship around the confirmation of lower court nominees only increased in administrations that followed, reaching their apex in 2013, when then-Majority Leader Harry Reid went nuclear on non-Supreme Court confirmation filibusters in response to the GOP’s McConnell-led obstruction campaign.

Republicans took the judicial wars to the next level by refusing to grant Garland, a highly regarded moderate judge, even a confirmation hearing last year after President Obama nominated him to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016. Hours after Scalia’s death, McConnell proclaimed that since it was a presidential election year, Obama’s successor should choose Scalia’s replacement.

Some Republicans have warned that nixing the Supreme Court filibuster will create a “slippery slope” to eliminating the legislative filibuster, as Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) suggested last week.

“I don’t think the legislative filibuster is in danger,” McConnell countered Sunday on Meet the Press. “It’s a longstanding tradition of the Senate.”

Corrected: This story has been corrected to reflect that Sen. Chuck Grassley is a Republican and that the late Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016, not 2015

 

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Thursday signaled that Republicans have no intention of dropping an Obamacare-related lawsuit that could cripple the individual health insurance market, but he confirmed that the subsidies to insurers at the heart of the legal challenge would continue while the lawsuit proceeds.

"We don't want to drop the lawsuit because we believe in the separation of powers. We believe in Congress retaining its lawmaking power," Ryan said at a press conference Thursday, while adding that the Trump administration is "exercising their discretion" in continuing the subsidies to insurers.

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A mass amnesia has fallen upon Republican senators.

They seem to have forgotten about that time they refused to give President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court an up-or-down vote – or even a hearing – last year. Now they are claiming that Democrats are the norm-breakers for threatening to filibuster President Trump’s own Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

Republicans are in a full-scale pressure campaign to convince 41 Democrats not to vote against invoking “cloture” on the debate over Gorsuch, which would prevent him from moving to a floor vote, where he would need only a simple majority to be confirmed.  GOP leaders have suggested, if that occurred, they would move to “nuke” the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees.

They’re correct in that typically a cloture vote is not called for a Supreme Court nominees, having occurred only four times in the modern era, according to the Washington Post. Most nominees were able to go directly from committee to an up-or-down simple majority vote on the Senate floor. Democrats’ current rhetoric about a 60-vote standard is a twisting of how things have usually happened.

But Republicans are wrong that Democrats are somehow entering new territory that wasn’t previously broken by the GOP’s blockade of Merrick Garland, the judge put forward by President Obama to replace the late Justice Scalia, whose seat will now likely be filled by Gorsuch.

On the dubious argument that a Supreme Court vacancy that opens in a presidential campaign year should be filled by whomever wins the election, Republican senators, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), refused to even move forward with confirmation hearings. Many Republicans wouldn’t even agree to meet with Garland, the usual first step in the formal and highly scripted process. It was an outright power grab — and one that worked.

Without irony or self-awareness, GOP senators are now bashing Democrats for preparing to launch “the first partisan filibuster” of a Supreme Court nominee and most aren’t even acknowledging that their blockade achieved the same goal through different means. They have plenty of ammo when it comes to touting Gorsuch’s qualifications and temperament, and yet they haven’t resisted making a process argument that claims a “moral high ground” when it comes to confirming nominees of another party.

McConnell, in the first week of the new Congress, said with a straight face that “the American people simply will not tolerate” Democratic efforts to block Gorsuch.

And he hasn’t backed down from arguing that Democrats are doing something materially different than what Republicans did under Obama.

This argument focuses on procedural hair-splitting. The efforts of a bipartisan group of senators has sunk at least one nominee, Judge Abe Fortas, and a few other times, nominees had to first pass a 60-vote cloture vote before being confirmed by the majority. Democrats previously attempted a partisan filibuster of Justice Samuel Alito, but fell well short. But no nominee, so far, has faced the level of obstruction that Republicans waged against Garland.

McConnell is not the only Republican acting like Democrats are unprecedented breakers of Senate confirmation norms.

At Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) browbeat Democrats for their tough questioning of the judge, while pointing out that Republicans confirmed the Obama nominees who were not named Garland.

“On Kagan and on Sotomayor, Republicans respected the president’s authority to appoint a Supreme Court justice, and Republicans did the right thing by moving forward and allowing the confirmation,” he said. “So I think that we have a moral high ground here that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle should take note of.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), likewise, said that Gorsuch had a “super legitimacy” because he was chosen by the candidate who won the 2016 presidential election, overlooking that the President that nominated Garland won two elections of his own and obstructing his final Supreme Court pick allowed for the nomination of Gorsuch in the first place.

With a floor vote on Gorsuch set for next week, the full Republican conference is engaged in a public campaign to discourage a Democratic filibuster. Senator after senator has taken to the chamber floor to decry the prospect of a “partisan filibuster,” with only a few even attempting to explain how their blockade of Garland was, on a consequence level, any different.

“It really is unprecedented what the Democratic leader, Senator Schumer, has suggested: that for the first time in the history of the United States Senate, a partisan filibuster will be used to attempt to defeat the nomination of a Supreme Court justice and to deny the Senate the opportunity to have an up-or-down vote,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the majority whip, said in a floor speech Wednesday.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) raised the partisan filibuster claim to “urge my colleagues to give Judge Gorsuch a chance.”

Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) remarked that it was “so important — and this body has historically treated it in such a solemn manner — that in over 230 years of our history, no nominee to the United States Supreme Court has ever been denied a seat through the use of a partisan filibuster.” He didn’t mention nominees denied seats because they weren’t given a hearing in committee.

“Unfortunately right now, members, colleagues from the other side of the aisle are threatening that very precedent,” Perdue said.

Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said he “would hope” that “step up and do a process that’s been consistent with this country for the last 230 years of how we process through judges.”

“That is, we have an up-or-down vote, they’re not blocked by a cloture vote to try to keep them from getting to a final vote. The judges here get an up-or-down vote. That’s the way that we’ve done it,” Lankford said.

Just a handful of Republicans have acknowledged the awkward position their treatment of Garland has put them in, and bothered to address why what Democrats are doing now is different.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a press conference Wednesday, called Garland an “incredibly qualified man” who was a “victim of nothing other than the Biden rule,” referencing a 1992 floor speech then Sen. Joe Biden arguing hypothetically President George W. Bush should refrain from naming a Supreme Court nominee in an election year unless that nominee was a moderate.

But a year ago, after Republicans committed to blocking whomever Obama nominated to replace Scalia, Graham admitted they were setting a “new precedent.”

“We are setting a precedent today. That in the last year of a lame-duck eight-year term that you cannot fill a vacancy in the Supreme Court,” Graham said at a Judiciary Committee meeting then. “Based on what we’re doing here today. That’s going to be the new rule.”

A battle years in the making over the politicization of the Senate’s judicial confirmation process will come to a head next week with the final push to confirm federal appeals court Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

The stage is being set with floor speeches, press conferences, and a committee vote Monday to advance President Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The drama surrounding his floor vote, slated for next Friday, is not about whether Gorsuch will be confirmed, but if the opportunity for the minority party to filibuster Supreme Court nominees will be blown up in the process.

A press conference Wednesday hosted by Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans with former clerks of Gorsuch was ostensibly meant to highlight the judge’s resume, his decade on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, and his temperament. But just as prominent was Republicans’ pleas that Democrats don’t filibuster Gorsuch and put the onus on GOP senators to trigger, as it’s called, the “nuclear option.”

“I’m here to tell you he’s going to be on the Supreme Court because he’s earned the right to be there. The only question is ‘how,’ it’s not even ‘when,’” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said at the press conference, held in front of the Supreme Court, where an amateur chorus sang a pro-Gorsuch song and counter-demonstrators chanted, “Don’t change the rules, change the nominee.”

“To my Democratic colleagues, if he can’t get 60 votes, Neil Gorsuch, that tells me that you don’t care about qualifications any longer,” Graham said.

This moment is a longtime coming. Republicans will say it began with Robert Bork, the Reagan nominee that was defeated in an up-or-down Senate floor vote due to concerns of his far-right judicial record. (Six Republicans joined Democrats in voting against his confirmation).

Democrats point to the obstruction campaign that then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) waged against President Obama’s lower court nominees, that culminated in the Senate’s Democratic majority going nuclear on the filibuster for non-Supreme Court confirmations.

But the fight reached new heights with Republicans’ treatment last year of federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland, the nominee President Obama selected to fill the seat left by the death of Justice Scalia, where Gorsuch now seeks to sit. Claiming a dubious standard that vacancies opened in a presidential election year should be filled by whomever wins the election, Republicans refused to grant Garland even a confirmation hearing. While there are certainly concerns from the left about Gorsuch’s jurisprudence, his willingness to buck the Trump administration and the dark money groups supporting his confirmation, the fact that an unprecedented blockade allowed his nomination in the first place is an inescapable element of the current fight.

“I hope that [the Democrats] will recognize, regardless of what was done to Merrick Garland, and I believe he should have been given fair consideration, that we’re past that now,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), one of only a few Senate Republicans to question the Garland blockade, told reporters last week.

It’s worth noting that when Clinton was expected to win the election, a few Republicans were suggesting they’d continue their blockade, and it was the Democrats, including then-Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who were floating the nuclear option.

As more Democratic senators commit to mounting a filibuster, the game is now about who will get blamed for further eroding the Senate norms that are supposed to retain the upper chamber’s more collegial and cooler-headed tenor.

After Wednesday’s press conference, Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) warned that it was a “slippery slope” if Democrats filibuster Gorsuch that could lead to the end of the filibuster on legislation as well.

“Then you’ve made the Senate from a deliberative point of view, just like the House, and you want to protect some place in our political system where minority views are considered,” Grassley said.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has declared his desire for a Democratic filibuster of Gorsuch. Now Republicans’ hopes rest on enough defections from Democrats representing red-states where Trump found deep support in the presidential election, and particularly those whose seats are up again in 2018.

The decision announced this week by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) – a centrist third-term senator facing re-election next year – to support a Gorsuch filibuster may have been the tell that Republicans’ pleas for Democrats not to filibuster are falling on deaf ears.

Alice Ollstein contributed reporting.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) shot down the idea that Republicans would be able to revive their Obamacare repeal effort, after a House replacement bill was pulled from the floor Friday.

McConnell’s remarks Tuesday afternoon threw cold water on optimism coming from the House GOP earlier in the day that lawmakers would be able to come to a deal on the bill.

“I think where we are on Obamacare, regretfully at the moment, is where the Democrats wanted us to be, which is the status quo,” McConnell said a press conference on Capitol Hill when asked if the Senate would be able to pass major health care legislation this year without 60 votes.

“It’s pretty obvious we were not able, in the House, to pass a replacement. Our Democratic friends ought to be pretty happy about that because we have the existing law in place and I think we are just going to have to see how that works out,” McConnell said. “We believe it will not work out well, but we’ll see. They’ll have an opportunity now to have the status quo, regretfully.”

McConnell went on to thank President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan for their efforts to pass the Obamacare replacement bill, the American Health Care Act.

House leaders had aimed to pass the bill last week, which marked the seventh anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, but faced revolts from both the caucus’ far-right and centrist flanks. The legislation would have gutted Medicaid, overhauled Obamacare’s tax credits, cut its taxes on the industry and high-earners, and scaled back its insurer reforms.

It was pulled from the floor dramatically Friday afternoon because it did not have the votes, and key Republicans quickly called the effort dead. On Tuesday, House Republicans came out of a conference meeting optimistic that they would be able to go back to negotiating on the legislation while tackling other aspects of the GOP agenda.

“We had a very constructive meeting with our members. Some of those who were in the no camp expressed a willingness to work on getting to yes and to making this work,” Ryan said at a press conference after the meeting. The New York Times reported that top Trump adviser Steve Bannon had quietly restarted discussions with members of the two House GOP factions that sunk the bill.

McConnell had publicly stayed out of House infighting over the direction of the legislation, but other GOP senators had warned that the House bill would be dead-in-arrival in the Senate. Some senators were mildly optimistic at House leaders’ announcement that they were renewing work on the bill, while others signaled that they would be focusing on other agenda items, including a tax overhaul.

“I think its going to take a while,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said of the repeal effort. “We need to focus on taxes and there will come a day when Obamacare collapses, obvious to everyone, and when that day comes, we need to work together to replace it.”

Time and time again, then-Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) -- who would become President Trump's Health and Human Services secretary -- told lawmakers at his January confirmation hearings that he would merely act as an "administrator" of the health care laws they passed.

"The good news for you, is that, as an administrator, if I am privileged to serve in that capacity, that I follow the policies adopted by the Congress of the United States and signed by the president," Price told a persistent Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH), as she grilled him about what he thought about Obamacare's Essential Health Benefits coverage of drug treatments. "So we look forward to working with you to make certain those kind of things are covered."

Alice Ollstein contributed reporting.

They blinked.

In a major setback for the Republicans' years-long effort to repeal Obamacare, GOP leaders were forced to delay a House vote planned for Thursday as negotiations continued around the legislation. The delay comes after the conservative hardliners who have been resisting the legislation emerged from a meeting with President Donald Trump with no clear deal to win over their votes.

According to various reports, the floor vote on the American Health Care Act will be pushed until at least Friday, with a meeting with the full House GOP conference slated for Thursday evening, followed by a procedural vote to make way for the final bill.

As the White House negotiated Thursday with members of the conservative hardline House Freedom Caucus, more and more members of Republicans' moderate flank came out of the woodwork to say they oppose the repeal bill due to the rightward direction in which it was heading.

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