WASHINGTON — A peeved President Donald Trump tweaked Republican opponents of his party’s reeling health care bill Monday, saying this week’s planned faceoff vote is their “last chance to do the right thing” and erase his predecessor’s signature overhaul.
Trump’s prodding of balking GOP senators came a day before leaders planned a pivotal vote that seemed likely to go badly for the party. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is nursing a slim 52-48 majority and the possible absence of Arizona Sen. John McCain, who’s battling cancer, which would mean two GOP defections would sink the measure.
At least a dozen Republican senators have publicly opposed or criticized the legislation, more than enough to kill it in the face of uniform Democratic opposition. That’s forced McConnell to step back twice from anticipated votes and to revise his legislation in hopes of mollifying unhappy moderates and conservatives.
McConnell’s legislation would uproot much of President Barack Obama’s health care law, eliminating its tax penalties on people not buying policies, cutting the Medicaid health care program for the poor and providing less generous health care subsidies for consumers. He’s revised it once and then said he’d push a vote on legislation simply repealing Obama’s statute. But McConnell and administration officials have also considered additional changes to the repeal-and-replace bill that might lure senators, leaving it unclear exactly what the Senate would be voting on Tuesday.
Complicating McConnell’s task, Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich said it would be a mistake for the Senate to move ahead Tuesday “and force a one-sided deal that the American people are clearly against.” Kasich’s stance could make it harder for wavering Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who’s criticized the measure’s Medicaid cuts, to back the measure.
Kasich panned the bill for a lack of “bipartisanship, transparency or open dialogue.” In a statement, the 2016 GOP presidential contender said Congress should take no action on recrafting the nation’s health care system until it can “step back from political gamesmanship and come together with a workable, bipartisan plan.”
Yet Portman and other undeclared Republican senators were also being pounded by the White House.
“Republicans have a last chance to do the right thing on Repeal & Replace after years of talking & campaigning on it,” Trump tweeted Monday.
Trump’s contentious tone toward members of his own party underscored the high stakes as he tries winning Republican votes for a goal the GOP has trumpeted since the statute’s 2010 enactment. He planned to make formal remarks on the health care legislation later Monday.
Characteristic of his scattershot effort on his party’s health care drive, Trump also spent the morning tweeting insults at Democrats, the news media and his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, about their handling of investigations into his 2016 campaign’s possible collusion with Russia.
In comments highlighting GOP tensions, Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, said it is “absolutely repugnant” that Republican senators aren’t following through on campaign promises to repeal Obama’s law.
Without naming them, he mentioned “female senators from the Northeast” and said, “If it was a guy from South Texas, I might ask him to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr style,” a reference to the firearms duel in which Burr killed Alexander Hamilton.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has opposed the GOP replacement plan. Other Republicans expressing reservations include Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Farenthold spoke Friday on 1440 KEYS radio’s “The Bob Jones Show” in Corpus Christi, Texas. A Farenthold spokeswoman said he could not immediately be reached for comment.
Should lightning strike and the Senate approve the legislation, House GOP leaders were hoping to shove it quickly through their chamber.
But in a sign of one complexity they’d face, an upstate New York Republican congressman said he’d oppose the Senate bill if it omits House-passed language granting Medicaid savings to all of his state’s counties excluding the five New York City boroughs. Last week, the Senate parliamentarian said that chamber’s Democrats would be able to remove it from the bill because it violates Senate rules.
Rep. Tom Reed said he would “oppose the present Senate health care bill” if it lacks that provision, which would force the state to cover $2.3 billion in Medicaid expenses now paid by upstate counties. The language was included in the House bill to help gain support from New York GOP representatives.