The moment of truth arrives for the Republican Party’s years-long drive to repeal the health care law.
President Donald Trump is demanding a vote Friday in the House on the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told GOP lawmakers. If the bill fails, Trump is prepared to move on and leave Obamacare in place, Mulvaney warned.
The surprise announcement by the top White House official — made with the full support of Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and other House GOP leaders — came during a closed-door meeting of Republicans Thursday evening in the basement of the Capitol.
Mulvaney, a member of the House until a few weeks ago who now heads the Office of Management and Budget, said Trump was done negotiating and wanted an up-or-down vote now.
The move by Trump and Ryan is an enormous gamble, setting up a real cliffhanger when the legislation hits the floor on Friday.
All day Thursday, the White House and GOP leaders lacked the votes to pass the American Health Care Act. A loss on the House floor would be a glaring embarrassment for the new president and House speaker — one that could undermine other parts of the GOP legislative agenda, including tax reform.
A victory, on the other hand, would provide not just a shot of badly-needed momentum for both men, but undermine the House Freedom Caucus, the group of conservative hard-liners who’ve fought the GOP health care plan because it doesn’t go far enough.
The group’s opposition was seen as a public rebuke to both the White House and House GOP leadership. If the the Freedom Caucus loses to Trump and Ryan, its power will be curtailed. If it wins, the group will once again be able to dictate terms to party leaders.
Yet this is the showdown that many mainstream GOP rank-and-file members have sought. They want a fight out in the open with the Freedom Caucus — either the group votes against Trump, or it gives in.
Negotiations between Trump and the Freedom Caucus hit an impasse earlier Thursday its members were told recent concessions from the White House and GOP leadership represented a final offer. The group rejected that, wanting more.
The setbacks triggered another series of meetings later Thursday — between Trump and the moderate Tuesday Group, and separately between the Freedom Caucus and Ryan. That was followed by a full GOP Conference meeting where Trump played his trump card.
Trump and Ryan had found themselves playing see-saw with moderates and hard-liners: Lean too much toward one faction and they lose votes from the other. So far, they’ve been unable to find a sweet spot.
Ryan can afford to lose only 22 votes on the floor. The Freedom Caucus has three dozen members, many of whom have vowed to block the bill unless they get what they want. More than a dozen centrist Republicans have also come out against the bill, further endangering its prospects.
But the Trump-Ryan gambit may pay off. Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said the move by Trump and Ryan “certainly does” put enormous pressure on the Freedom Caucus to get behind the bill. And already a handful sounded like their positions were softer than they had been before.
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who said he remains undecided, added that efforts by the Freedom Caucus had “improved the bill.” Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) said members will feel more pressure to vote “yes” with the bill on the floor, even if they may have felt comfortable opposing it before. Sanford said he was undecided.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) was a “no” but is now undecided.
“I’ve got to decide whether this is best for my district and best for the president and best for my country. And I’m not convinced it will bend the cost curve down… but it may be as good as it gets on this one,” DesJarlais said.
“We get elected to make votes, and this is a big vote,” added Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), a Freedom Caucus member who supports the bill and called it “the right thing to do.”
“I think it passes,” he added.