“The days of talking are over. It’s time to vote,” said Representative Bradley Byrne of Alabama, a strong supporter of the GOP plan. “The longer we wait, the worse our chances get.”
Leadership officials were increasingly frustrated with the Freedom Caucus, which withheld its support even after winning Trump’s support for a change that would strip out Obamacare’s requirement that insurance plans cover maternity care, mental-health treatment, preventive services, and a host of other “essential health benefits” defined in the law. One leadership aide questioned whether Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the group’s leader, could deliver its roughly three dozen votes after personally promising the president he would. A Meadows aide said the Freedom Caucus was pushing for even broader changes that would repeal the insurance regulations forbidding discrimination based on preexisting conditions and lifetime-coverage limits. But that is a non-starter for many House Republicans, and party leaders believe a bill that broad could not pass.
Members like Byrne wanted the leaders to simply put the bill up for a vote, gambling that many of the rank-and-file lawmakers who have withheld their support wouldn’t dare let it go down in defeat in such dramatic fashion. “As a Republican, you’ve got one choice,” he said. “You either are going to vote with Donald Trump to repeal and replace Obamacare, or you’re going to vote with Nancy Pelosi to defeat the only bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. If you’re a Republican, that’s a pretty simple choice.”
While the Freedom Caucus bargained for more conservative provisions, more moderate Republicans were peeling off the bill. Representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state and Mark Amodei of Nevada declared their opposition on Thursday, and Trump planned to meet at the White House with the Tuesday Group, a coalition of moderates.
The announcement of the delay appeared to catch even the president unaware. Moments after the news broke, Trump told a group of truckers at the White House that the vote would still be held on Thursday. “We’ll see what happens,” he said. “It’s going to be a very close vote.” Earlier in the day, Press Secretary Sean Spicer was guaranteeing a victory. “It’s gonna pass. So that’s it,” he told reporters.
Thursday’s push came after Ryan spent more than two hours Wednesday night meeting with more than a dozen members of the Tuesday Group and lawmakers representing swing districts. The pow-wow was inconclusive. The Republicans slipped out of the Capitol without speaking to reporters, and immediately after he left, Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, a co-chairman of the Tuesday Group, instructed his staff to release a statement formally opposing the leadership’s bill.
“I believe this bill, in its current form, will lead to the loss of coverage and make insurance unaffordable for too many Americans, particularly for low-to-moderate income and older individuals,” Dent said. “We have an important opportunity to enact reforms that will result in real health-care transformation—bringing down costs and improving health outcomes. This legislation misses the mark.”