Facing defeat, GOP pulls healthcare bill

Paul Ryan holding a piece of paper
House Speaker Paul Ryan worked around the clock for the last couple of days to convince his fellow Republicans to vote for a bill repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. (Speaker.gov)

With too few Republicans signaling that they would support the American Health Care Act if it came up for a vote on the House floor Friday, Republican leaders opted instead to table the bill, a stinging defeat for President Donald Trump’s legislative agenda.

The AHCA would have repealed many of the Affordable Care Act’s key provisions and replaced them with a set of furiously negotiated policies that some Republicans still felt were not conservative enough.

The House was set to vote on the reconciliation bill Thursday, but that vote was delayed after GOP leadership failed to win enough Republican supporters.

After a meeting with Republican members late Thursday, President Donald Trump signaled that he wanted a vote held on the healthcare overhaul on Friday, saying that if it failed to pass that the Affordable Care Act would remain intact.

RELATED: Trump sets up high-stakes healthcare gamble in House

Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan met Thursday afternoon to discuss the vote count, with some reports indicating that count was still short of the 216 votes needed to pass the bill.

At a press conference Friday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that regardless of the outcome of the vote, Trump does not regret choosing to tackle healthcare first rather than some of his other big-ticket priorities like tax reform.

The president and his team had done everything that they could to convince members to fulfill their campaign promises and vote to repeal the ACA, Spicer said, but “at the end of the day, we can’t force people to vote.”

He also offered a degree of support for Ryan, who worked hand-in-hand with Trump to whip up support for the bill this week.

“I think the speaker has done everything he can,” Spicer said. “He’s worked really closely with the president.”

In hours of impassioned debate on the House floor Friday, Republicans in support of the bill made their last pitches for their colleagues to pass it.

“A vote against this bill today is a vote for the preservation of the Obamacare disaster,” Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., said.

Democrats, though, delivered impassioned speeches against it. Some of the most fiery rhetoric came from Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who said he will “fight every single attempt to turn a deaf ear, a blind eye and a cold shoulder to the sick, to our seniors and to working families.”

“I oppose this bill with every breath and every bone in my body,” he added.

Earlier in the day, Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., specifically slammed the last-minute changes Republicans made to the bill, which included a provision letting states rather than the federal government determine essential health benefits.

Such amendments were “so cartoonishly malicious,” he said, that he could picture the author twirling his mustache as he drafted it in his “Capitol lair” on Thursday night.

Those amendments were in addition to changes that Republican leaders made to the bill earlier in the week as they began to woo wary members of the conservative Freedom Caucus. An updated score from the Congressional Budget Office released Thursday indicated that those changes would make little difference coverage-wise but result in reduced expected savings.  

The CBO’s original estimate of the bill found that it would increase the number of uninsured individuals by 24 million people as of 2026, relative to current law, and reduce the federal deficit by $337 billion.

5 p.m. update:

In a press conference Thursday after tabling the bill, Ryan said Republicans were disappointed that they were unable to fulfill one of their core campaign promises.

"This is a setback, no two ways about it," he said. "But it's not the end of the story." The Department of Health and Human Services secretary, he noted, can take some actions to "stabilize things," but he also worried that the insurance markets still face a rocky future in the near term.

"My worry is Obamacare will be getting even worse," he said.

Speaking at his own press conference, Trump made a similar prediction, saying "I think what will happen is Obamacare will unfortunately explode." However, he laid the blame on Democrats, saying "the losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer because they own it."

If Democrats want to become "civilized" and work with Republicans on a great healthcare bill in the future, he said, "we're totally open to it."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, though, saw it another way.

“They had seven years to come up with their, quote, ‘better way,’ and now it turns out they’ve been bluffing," she said.