Sen. Susan Collins on Monday became the third Republican senator to publicly oppose the Graham-Cassidy bill, enough opposition to thwart any last-second revisions to try to get 50 votes to dismantle Obamacare.
Collins’s opposition was expected, but she is now the third hard ‘no’ against the bill, joining GOP Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and John McCain of Arizona. Republicans can only afford to lose two votes and pass the bill.
Collins told reporters she hopes to pivot back to stalled bipartisan discussions to stablize Obamacare. She added that President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had both tried to convince her to change her mind.
“I told [Trump] that I would go back and look at the numbers one more time. But I was straightforward with him that I was not likely to be a ‘yes’ vote,” Collins told reporters.
Senate Republicans are set to meet Tuesday on whether to try to open debate on health care again on the floor to show the GOP’s base that they are still trying to repeal Obamacare. The caucus is internally debating whether to hold a vote certain to fail later this week.
“We’re going to need to have a meeting of our conference tomorrow at noon to see where we can see where everybody is,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas).
Republicans in the Senate and White House are now resigned to defeat in their final bid to repeal Obamacare this week, despite a flurry of last-second revisions by the bill’s authors, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), meant to win over skeptical senators.
GOP leaders have yet to pull the plug on the effort, but a massive change in dynamics must occur in the sharply divided Senate for the Graham-Cassidy measure to pass. Some senators are warning against holding another failed vote, but are wary of getting criticism from conservatives.
“I think it would be a mistake to have another failed vote,” said one Republican senator. “But we have to show the base we’re trying.”
Trump seemed far more pessimistic on Monday morning than he had been last week, telling the “Rick & Bubba” radio show that he expected crippling opposition, calling it “disgusting” that party leaders can’t pass a bill to repeal and replace the 2010 health law. Trump wants to continue the health care fight even though he is said to be resigned it will fail this time, a White House official said.
“Well, I wish ’em luck. But I’m not convinced they have much of a chance,” Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch said with a chuckle earlier in the day.
Changes made to the bill over the weekend did little to improve the bill’s whip count.
Paul is still opposed to the bill, the senator said Monday. McCain also has not changed his position, which hardened on Friday into a “no” vote against his close friend Graham’s legislation.
And though the latest changes to the bill are intended to woo Collins, McCain and Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Murkowski also has yet to get on board.
Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said a few minutes before Collins’ announcement in an interview that he still thought the bill could be salvaged and predicted “there will be” a vote.
“It will succeed and I’m voting for it,” Heller said. “It’s called optimism.”
The White House has actively negotiated with Murkowski, Paul and Collinss. The White House official said they could get Paul, but it would cost other votes. “Collins doesn’t want to vote ‘yes’ on this,” this person said before Collins’ announcement. “I’m not sure what we could do for her.”
The president has told advisers that he is convinced that there will be political damage for the White House if they don’t pass health care legislation.
“We’re going to lose two or three votes, and that’s the end of that,” Trump said on the Alabama-based radio show, in which he dinged McCain as “the only reason” the law is still around. He also referred to McConnell as unpopular.
Utah Sen. Mike Lee is still reviewing the bill, his office said. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said is not yet supportive of the legislation. Some of the latest tweaks to Graham-Cassidy would further loosen Obamacare regulations in a bid to win over the two conservative Republicans.
Cruz aides said there had been an agreement last week that the bill’s sponsors had backed away from to roll back more regulations to offer cheaper plans. “We thought we were there,” said one aide. “It is our intent to to get to yes.”
Graham and Cassidy’s bill would block grant federal Obamacare funding to states and make deep cuts to Medicaid. Changes circulated on Capitol Hill on Sunday night would allow states more flexibility to eliminate federal insurance regulations and pump more resources toward Alaska, though critics argue the state would still receive less money than under Obamacare.
The bill would reduce the deficit by at least $133 billion through a decade and leave millions more people without insurance coverage, the Congressional Budget Office said Monday in a brief analysis of an earlier version of the bill.
Murkowski opposed even debating previous iterations of repeal in the summer, but she is still engaging with Graham, Cassidy and other bill supporters this time around. Her sparsely populated and remote state faces high health care costs and unique challenges compared to other states.
Paul said Sunday he could support the bill with fewer regulations and far skimpier block grants to the states, though that position would likely turn off more centrist GOP senators.
Graham insisted on Sunday that Republicans will find the votes to repeal Obamacare.
But Capitol Hill Republicans are privately pessimistic about their chances of reversing the momentum against the bill ahead of a key Sept. 30 deadline to repeal the law by a party-line vote. The White House official said it was a “very uphill battle right now.”
McConnell has not said whether he will force a failed vote on the floor, though in the past he has been reluctant to do so. Republicans also lack the votes to reopen debate on the bill, with many senators’ offices noncommittal.
In a move perhaps intended to appeal to McCain, who has repeatedly called for consideration of the bill under “regular order, Republicans held a Finance Committee hearing on the bill Monday.
Critics of the bill were not mollified by the hearing, which was quickly disrupted by protests. Capitol Police dragged out nearly 20 protesters, most of whom were disabled and in wheelchairs.
The protest forced Hatch to temporarily suspend the hearing for roughly 15 minutes as the disability rights activists chanted, “No cuts to Medicaid, save our liberty.”
Elana Schor, Adam Cancryn and Nolan McCaskill contributed to this report.
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