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McConnell aims for full Obamacare repeal after replacement bill withers

July 18, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
With the latest push by Senate Republicans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act coming to an anticlimactic end, party leaders have shifted their focus to simply focus on “repeal.” Sen. Mitch McConnell proposed delaying the effective date of repeal for two years, while Democrats flexed their opposition. Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The latest Senate Republican push to replace the Affordable Care Act has come to nothing. Now party leaders say they will try for just repeal.

Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage of the past tumultuous 24 hours.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., Majority Leader: I regret that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failures of Obamacare will not be successful.

LISA DESJARDINS: A remarkable statement and a bitter admission for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that Republicans still can’t muster the votes on a health care bill. It became clear last night, after Utah’s Mike Lee and Jerry Moran of Kansas said they’d vote against the revised version.

With that, McConnell changed course, and decided to go for pure repeal.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: A majority of the Senate voted to pass the same repeal legislation back in 2015. President Obama vetoed it then. President Trump — President Trump will sign it now.

LISA DESJARDINS: McConnell proposed delaying the effective date of repeal for two years, so both parties can work out a replacement. But, almost immediately, three Republicans came out as no’s to McConnell’s idea That’s enough to kill it.

Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, and Susan Collins of Maine all said it is too risky to repeal without an immediate plan for what next.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, R-Maine: I do not think it is going to be constructive to repeal a law that, at this point, is so interwoven in our health care system, and then hope that, over the next two years, we will come up with some kind of replacement.

LISA DESJARDINS: At the same time, Democrats are flexing their muscles against repeal.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer:

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., Minority Leader: Passing repeal now is not a door to bipartisan solutions, as the majority leader suggested this morning. Rather, it is a disaster. The door to bipartisanship is open right now. Not with repeal, but with an effort to improve the existing system.

LISA DESJARDINS: Even though it seems certain to fail, Republican leaders said they’re going to press forward and hold a vote some time soon.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, I think we will have to see what happens. We will have demonstrated that Republicans by themselves are not prepared at this point to do a replacement.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We’re not going own it. I’m not going to own it.

LISA DESJARDINS: At the White House, President Trump was left lamenting the latest health care failure, and insisting the fault lies elsewhere.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: For seven years, I have been hearing repeal and replace from Congress. And I have been hearing it loud and strong. And then, when we finally get a chance to repeal and replace, they don’t take advantage of it. We will let Obamacare fail, and then the Democrats are going to come to us and they’re going to say, how do we fix it, how do we fix it?

LISA DESJARDINS: As recently as yesterday, Mr. Trump sounded more confident, in a quick aside to Vice President Pence.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We’re getting it together. And it’s going to happen, right, Mike?

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Yes, sir.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think.

(APPLAUSE)

LISA DESJARDINS: Mr. Trump has repeatedly said he’s willing to sign a repeal-only bill. The vice president, who spent much of the day on Capitol Hill, urged lawmakers to do something.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Inaction is not an option. Congress needs to step up. Congress needs to do their job, and Congress needs to do their job now.

LISA DESJARDINS: House Speaker Paul Ryan sounded a similar note, and also said the House bill, which repeals and replaces Obamacare simultaneously, is still — quote — “the best way to go.”

REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis., Speaker of the House: Well, we’d like to see the Senate move on something.

LISA DESJARDINS: And House Budget Committee Chair Diane Black joined the chorus urging the Senate to act.

REP. DIANE BLACK, R-Tenn.: We’re going to be eternally optimistic that the Senate is going to get their work done.

LISA DESJARDINS: Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of 11 governors called for the Senate to reject efforts to repeal Obamacare now and replace it later.

So, when we will see the next votes in the Senate? Senator John Cornyn, the number two Republican in the Senate, told my colleague Ellis Kim and some other reporters tonight he expects that vote this week — Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Lisa, from what you’re reporting, it doesn’t sound like they have the votes to pass repeal, so what are they going to do after that?

LISA DESJARDINS: Right, it’s fascinating. They’re frantic to take a vote now that likely will fail and looks it like, Judy, after that, they’re ready for a 180-degree turn to move from this closed-door process they have had until now for the past seven months to a more open, public, kind of regular process that, as it’s known here in the Senate, with committee hearings.

Late tonight, the chairman of the Health Committee here in the Senate, Senator Alexander, announced he does plan to holding open hearings on health care and stabilizing the markets, regardless of the vote.

And, Judy, it’s worth noting those three senators who are the no votes, who are essentially blocking this latest effort from Mr. McConnell, they’re are all senators who were not included in the closed-door meetings. Those female senators now saying they think it should have been open like this all along.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Lisa, this is a big hit for the Republicans in the Senate and the Congress overall. What are they saying to you? How do they feel about this?

LISA DESJARDINS: They’re very raw, Judy.

One of them told me that they’re just exhausted. Another said today’s meeting of all Republican senators was — quote — “robust.” Translation of that, Judy, it was tense.

There is some real fear about what this means for their elections next year. There are real questions about what it means to hold a vote that is likely to fail. Why are they doing that? Why does Mitch McConnell want to hold the vote?

Well, the theory is that he wants to show who is to blame for blocking their repeal efforts and to say they gave it their best try, but that idea could, of course, ricochet and harm some of their senators as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what about Majority Leader McConnell? Is his standing secure after all this?

LISA DESJARDINS: Well, one senator, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, made an extraordinary statement today, saying he doesn’t have confidence in Mitch McConnell anymore and doesn’t trust his leadership.

But, Judy, he was an exception. Other senators, including Lisa Murkowski, told me they do have confidence in him. She gave a great quote today, Judy, to us. She said that Mitch McConnell is trying to keep the frogs in the wheelbarrow and doing as well as he can.

Fascinating, because she’s one of the frogs that actually has jumped out of that wheelbarrow, but it looks like for now his leadership will stay and he will stay in power.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I like the metaphor.

Lisa, what does all this mean for health care? Because the Republicans have run several plans up the flagpole. They haven’t passed. Where do they stand? Where do we stand?

LISA DESJARDINS: That’s right.

This was the fifth draft, maybe the sixth draft, depending on how you count it this year. Let’s just get to some bottom lines for what we’re doling with now as Americans. It looks like now the effort to have massive Medicaid reform, large-scale cuts in the numbers of Medicaid recipients in the future, that effort now seems dead.

However, the fate of the Medicaid expansion under Medicaid — under the Obamacare, that is not clear. We will have to see what happens in negotiations. But, overall, Medicaid itself will largely stay as it is now.

Also, the idea of repealing Obamacare wholesale, that seems unlikely to happen. We will see what happens in the next vote but it seems most likely, Judy, that Obamacare will stay largely within the framework it has now and that the discussion will shift to how to fix it and how to stabilize markets within that framework.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And this — you and I were talking earlier, this will have an effect on the larger Republican leadership agenda as well.

LISA DESJARDINS: Oh, a huge effect.

They’re hoping that it will not be catastrophic, but now they are jammed up against some very, very limited time on the calendar, Judy. And they have some must-do things like passing spending bills, which, as we know, is never easy, but also a debt ceiling limit that must be raised some time in the next few months.

And in addition to that, they are trying to still pursue tax reform. That is a once-in-a-generation kind of achievement. They’re trying to do it in this very kind of caustic, sharp environment with health care still waiting. And it’s unclear about what of that will happen or when it can all happen, but Republicans say they’re still going to try.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And in just a few seconds, Lisa, you were also telling us today the Republicans in the House rolled out their budget.

LISA DESJARDINS: Yes.

This is something not to be missed and would be a headline probably in most other weeks, but that’s right. This Republican budget document is just a starting step in spending process, but it’s important, Judy because they’re doing something very new this year.

They are proposing cutting not just discretionary subjects, which are your usual government agencies we talk about, education and so forth, but they want to cut mandatory programs as well in their budget. Those are things like Social Security, Medicare, food stamps. They want to use those cuts in those mandatory programs to help things like the defense and also for tax cuts, so something to watch.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s a lot to watch.

Lisa Desjardins, thank you for being our eyes and ears at the Capitol. We thank you.

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