Rand Paul, Democrats slam secrecy surrounding GOP healthcare bill

“I will not stand idly by while the American people are kept in the dark," Sen. Rand Paul said Thursday of the GOP's decision to closely guard its bill that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. (paul.senate.gov)

Republicans’ effort to craft an Affordable Care Act repeal and replacement took a strange turn Thursday, with one prominent GOP senator and some Democratic lawmakers staging a public quest to obtain a closely guarded draft of the bill from the House.

GOP congressional leaders have been keeping the draft under lock and key, in order to prevent it from being leaked in the same fashion as an older version was last week.

However, the level of secrecy surrounding the most recent version didn’t sit well with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has been a leading critic of the party leadership’s healthcare proposals.

So on Thursday afternoon, he decided to take matters into his own hands, with reporters in tow:

He even got a tongue-in-cheek nod from House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi:

“It is already bad enough that it appears House leadership wants us to settle for ‘Obamacare Lite,’ but now we can’t even expect full transparency during the process,” he said in a statement Thursday. “I will not stand idly by while the American people are kept in the dark."

However, Paul ultimately learned that the draft legislation is being hidden in a “secure location” and was denied the chance to make a copy of it, he said in his statement.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer also staged his own, unsuccessful, public hunt for the bill, and chronicled the search via Facebook live:

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, was also sharply critical of what he characterized as a Republican "sneak attack" to deny healthcare to millions. "To those who said previously to read the bill, we can simply say, 'we have no bill to read,'" he said during a news conference.

Republican leaders denied there was an attempt to hide ACA replacement legislation, according to the New York Times. “We don’t have a bill," said Rep. Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. "We’re continuing to work with the Congressional Budget Office and our members on the final product.”

Paul and some of his colleagues’ criticism of the previous draft of the bill as well as his public move to get a copy of the newest version both illustrate the lingering divisions that are hampering Republicans’ healthcare agenda. President Donald Trump himself seemed to throw his support behind one of the more controversial provisions of the leaked draft—providing tax credits to help people purchase coverage—in his address to Congress Tuesday.

RELATED: GOP leadership to call party dissenters' bluffs to block ACA repeal

But in his weekly news conference, House Speaker Paul Ryan was adamant that his party is all on the same page when it comes to repealing and replacing the ACA.

“We’re all working off the same piece of paper, the same plan, so we are in sync—the House, the Senate and the Trump administration—because this law is collapsing,” he said. “I am perfectly confident that when it is all said and done, we are going to unify because we all, every Republican, ran on repealing and replacing, and we’re going to keep our promises.”

Editor's note: This article has been updated to add additional details.