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Conservatives escalate threats to tank Obamacare repeal

So much for President Donald Trump’s charm offensive with conservatives.

Conservative Hill leaders warned on Sunday that they won’t support the House GOP Obamacare alternative as it’s written, saying they’ll let the bill fail if they don’t get concessions.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said they want the chance to amend the legislation in exchange for their votes. Both men — along with their firebrand Senate ally Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — have panned the proposed replacement as “Obamacare-lite” and are appealing to the White House to support items like the modification of health care tax credits and the Medicaid expansion phase-out.

“We’ve got to lower health care premiums … and this current plan doesn’t effectively lower health care premiums,” Meadows said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “If we don’t do that, then we just have Obamacare by another name.”

Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and other GOP leaders have tried to move quickly on the existing legislation, arguing in public that members face a binary choice between the status quo of Obamacare or the replacement that stands before them.

Jordan pointedly rejected that idea on Sunday. “Seems to me the ‘binary choice,’ if there is one here, is to say … ‘Either work with us or you don’t end up getting the votes,’” Jordan told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”

The continued opposition from the Hill’s right flank comes as Trump and top administration officials try to woo conservatives into backing the bill. Trump dined with Meadows and Jordan at the White House last week, and Freedom Caucus members have been invited to go bowling at the White House in the coming days.

But conservative leaders’ message to Trump on Sunday seemed clear: We’re not budging without changes.

“Right now, I think there’s a charm offensive going on. Everybody is being nice to everybody because they want us to vote for this,” Paul said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “But we’re not going to vote for it.”

It’s unclear whether other conservatives will fall in line with Meadows, Jordan and Paul, who are some of the most gung-ho on the right. A number of conservative lawmakers have told POLITICO they’re not sure how they’ll vote and acknowledge that they’re feeling serious pressure to back it.

House GOP leaders, including Ryan, say they’re confident that they’ll pass the bill. Many leadership allies doubt that enough conservative doubters will band together to sink the legislation.

Republican leadership has been loath to make major changes to the proposal because each move toward the right will make the bill harder to pass in the Senate — and turn off their own centrist-Republican members.

“When you’re a governing party getting consensus among your wide, big-tent party … everybody doesn’t get what they want,” Ryan said on “Face the Nation.” “Look, this is what the legislative process looks like. When you are going through a deliberative legislative process, not ramming and jamming things but going through all the committees … people are going to try and negotiate.”

Trump administration officials have encouraged unhappy conservatives to amend the bill instead of blowing it up. On Sunday, Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said on “State of the Union” that “we encourage the House and the Senate to try to make the bill better.”

“That is what the legislative process is all about,” said Mulvaney, an ex-Freedom Caucus member, who called the proposal “a really really good bill.” Mulvaney also encouraged caucus members in a private meeting last week to offer amendments as they see fit.

Jordan argued Sunday, however, that conservatives are having trouble getting their amendments voted on: “Not one single [conservative-backed] amendment was allowed to be offered” during the markup of the bills last week, he said. “That’s not how the process is supposed to work.”

Two Freedom Caucus members who sit on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee voted for the bill during committee markups last week, something leadership saw as a sign that at least some conservatives would back the bill. Both also decided not to offer their amendments backed by conservative groups, but only, they said, because they believe leaders will look at the amendments later on.

One, Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), told POLITICO on Thursday that he didn’t offer his amendment to include work requirements for Medicaid because he wanted to tweak it first. The other, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), told reporters Friday that Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) asked him not to introduce it. Barton’s amendment would have phased out the Medicaid expansion sooner, an idea backed by the conservative Republican Study Committee.

“I [withdrew my amendment] because I was asked to, and, as a former chairman of that committee, I thought it was the right thing to do,” he said. “Once your bill is put together, unless it’s an absolutely no-brainer addition, most chairman want to keep the bill like it is. And the bill we passed yesterday is a good bill.”

Multiple House conservatives say they will push for changes to be made to the bill in the Rules Committee, which can also amend the bill. The panel, however, is made up completely of Ryan loyalists, so conservatives will have to get leadership to sign off on the changes first.

Since leaders are hesitating to change the bill for fear it will fail in the Senate, conservatives are leaning on the White House to adopt their changes — while complaining the process hasn’t been transparent enough.

“This idea that they had the bill hidden away, introduced it five days ago and now you have to take it or leave it? That’s not how American democracy works,” Jordan said on Sunday. “We’d like a chance to amend it, change it and make it consistent with the message we told the voters we’d accomplish.”

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