House GOP Clings to Obamacare Repeal Dream After Bill Fails

  • Leading moderate Republicans meet with House Freedom Caucus
  • Trump and Ryan pulled bill Friday, saying it’s time to move on

House Speaker Paul Ryan, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, listen to questions during a media briefing after attending a closed House Republican conference, on Capitol Hill, on March 28.

Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Leaders of moderate and conservative U.S. House Republican factions are talking about how to revive the health-care bill that some of them helped bring down last week.

Representative Tom MacArthur of New Jersey, a co-chairman of the GOP’s Tuesday Group of moderates, said he participated in a meeting brokered by House Speaker Paul Ryan with some members of the House Freedom Caucus where they reopened the conversation on how to repeal and replace Obamacare.

“We as a conference are still trying to get to yes,” MacArthur said, adding that the “framework would largely be the same” as the bill that Ryan abruptly pulled from the House floor on Friday.

Republican leaders had said Friday that they were moving on from health care to other issues, particularly a tax overhaul, but the meeting suggests that some members are still trying to see if there is a way forward for delivering on one of their top campaign promises.

The Trump administration is aware of the conversations, and a senior administration official said the White House is nudging them on.

Even so, it’s not clear how eager all House Republicans are to reopen the debate after last week’s embarrassing events.

‘Get to Yes’

“The speaker decided not to roll the dice and offer a vote,” said Representative Joe Barton of Texas. “So, technically,” he said, “nobody’s had to do anything. And I think we can get people to get to yes.”

“There’s no agreement, but everyone in that room is dying to get to yes,” said Representative Dave Brat of Virginia, a Freedom Caucus member who met with House moderates. “So once a few subgroups come together with a potential yes, boy, I think everyone is going to be happy.”

President Donald Trump pulled the plug on a planned vote Friday after conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus and moderate Republicans still couldn’t support the final bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sounded ready to move on Tuesday.

“It is pretty obvious we were not able in the House to pass a replacement,” he told reporters. “Our Democratic friends ought to be pretty happy about that because we have the existing law in place and I think we’re just gonna have to see how that works out.”

Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican and co-founder of the Freedom Caucus, said that while he hasn’t spoken with Trump since the vote failed, Republicans have gone “back at the drawing board” to formulate a new plan. Speaking on CNN’s “New Day” program on Wednesday, Jordan said the failed health-care proposal lacked public support.

“The legislation that was brought forward was not a full repeal of Obamacare, was not going to lower premiums, and didn’t unite the country, didn’t unite our party,” he said. “And, frankly, only the support of 17 percent of the country. So let’s change that.”

‘Keep Talking’

Ryan on Friday said the conference would move on to a tax overhaul, but on Tuesday he said health-care talks were continuing inside the party.

“We’re going to keep talking to each other until we get it right,” the speaker told reporters. “I’m not going to put a timeline on it because this is too important to not get right and to put an artificial timeline on it.”

Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the top House Republican vote-counter, sounded more optimistic.

“To my Democrat colleagues who were celebrating Friday’s action, I think their celebration is premature because I think we’re closer today to repealing Obamacare than we’ve ever been before, and surely even closer than we were Friday,” he said. “So, we’re going to keep working.”

‘Get It Done’

Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who helped lead conservatives to hold out against Ryan’s bill last week, also sounded as if efforts on a bill were re-energized.

“I don’t think we need to go home until we get a solution,” he said of trying to reach an agreement. “Everybody wants to get it done.”

Meadows said he’s been talking since Friday to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, and was hoping to talk later in the day with more moderate members.

The Freedom Caucus, primarily, has been blamed by Republicans for the failure to reach a deal last week. But Barton, one of the caucus members who supported the bill, said he thinks holdout members can be instrumental in another stab at getting an agreement done.

“But it’s going to take some work,” he said. “And it’s going to take work from all elements of the Congress. And I think people are willing to do that.”

— With assistance by Anna Edgerton, Jennifer Jacobs, and Toluse Olorunnipa

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