Alice Ollstein contributed reporting.
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.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told CNN shortly after the vote was delayed that leadership hoped to re-schedule the vote for Friday.
We’ll have conference a little later this evening, bring people together about where we are,” McCarthy said. “We’ve made progress today. And it’s our hope that we’d be voting tomorrow, after debate.”
Leadership had hoped to bring the bill up for a floor vote Thursday—the seventh anniversary of the Affordable Care Act’s passage. Under former President Obama, Republicans took dozens of votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, launched well-funded lawsuits designed to cripple it, and pledged to dismantle the law over multiple campaign cycles. But in that time, lawmakers also failed to come to a consensus around a single replacement plan and since Trump’s election, the caucus has erupted into fight after fight over the basic questions of how Republicans should approach health care.
Thursday’s chaos suggested those fissures are denying Republicans the 216 votes they need to pass the bill in the House.
The conservatives met among themselves mid-day Thursday to discuss their next moves, and moderates tickled in and out of meetings with the House GOP leadership. The GOP whip team has also been huddled behind closed doors with leadership, with House Speaker Paul Ryan still expected to participate in his weekly press Thursday afternoon. House Speaker Paul Ryan repeatedly postponed his weekly Thursday press conference.
Meanwhile, less than two hours before the vote was officially delayed, White House press secretary Sean Spicer insisted at his daily press briefing that it would happen Thursday night. The White House later spun the delay with an assurance it would happen Friday morning instead.
White House spokeswoman says there will be vote tomorrow. “It’s for scheduling so no one has to be up at 3am.” Hmmm
— Jeff Zeleny (@jeffzeleny) March 23, 2017
The major point of discussion has been the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s Essential Health Benefits provision, which conservatives have been pushing for, arguing that the current form the legislation won’t lower premiums. Up until recently, leadership had argued that repealing the benefits would violate the Senate rules for the type of process, known as reconciliation, they seek to use to pass the bill.
“That’s in discussion, clearly the major request from the members of the House Freedom Caucus,” House Ways and Means Chair Kevin Brady (R-TX) told reporters in gaggle earlier Thursday.
After meeting with the White House on Thursday morning, Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) huddled with his caucus behind closed doors, emerging three hours later to tell a reporters that there are still enough “no” votes to kill the bill.
“We’re committed to stay as long as it takes to takes this done, because we promised it to the American people,” he said, noting that Thursday was always an “artificial deadline” imposed by GOP leaders. “Whether the vote is tonight, tomorrow, or five days from now, the president will get a victory.”
Other Freedom Caucus members, including Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), seemed to enjoy the power the group was wielding by withholding their votes on the bill.
“Two or three weeks ago, our leadership said they needed to work with the moderates because they knew the conservatives were just going to fall in line. Well I guess they learned today that that’s not the way to negotiate,” he said. “Maybe they will learn something from what happened today.”
Labrador said he would “love to start over” rather than continue to amend the bill currently on the table.
Meadows didn’t go this far, but told CNN that his group wants a focus on “Obamacare mandates, the Obamacare rules” in the reconciliation legislation, rather than see those elements of the ACA tackled administratively, as was leadership’s initial plan.
Beyond the question of whether such a provision would fly under the Senate’s parliamentary rules, it also risks the loss of moderate votes, who were already uncomfortable with the GOP bill’s massive cuts to Medicaid.