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Republican repeal effort in ruins, ‘we’re going to be living with Obamacare’ for foreseeable future

March 24, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
It was a hectic day on Capitol Hill as top Republicans tried win enough votes to pass an Obamacare replacement. But House Speaker Paul Ryan, along with President Trump, decided to pull the repeal when it was clear it would not pass. Judy Woodruff speaks with Lisa Desjardins from Capitol Hill and Robert Costa from The Washington Post about today’s political upset.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The Republican effort to replace Obamacare, the health care law, lies in ruins tonight.

At the 11th hour today, House GOP leaders gave up trying to hold a vote on their bill.

Our Lisa Desjardins has been at the Capitol all day. She begins our coverage.

REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis., Speaker of the House: I will not sugarcoat this. This is a disappointing day for us.

LISA DESJARDINS: After a dramatic week of will they or won’t they, Republicans’ selected won’t, pulling their sweeping health care bill shortly before a scheduled vote, when it clearly was short of the support it needed.

REP. PAUL RYAN: Moving from an opposition party to a governing party comes with growing pains. And, well, we’re feeling those growing pains today. We came really close today, but we came up short.

Doing big things is hard. All of us, all of us, myself included, we will need time to reflect on how we got to this moment.

LISA DESJARDINS: The House speaker then acknowledged the resulting reality.

REP. PAUL RYAN: Obamacare is the law of the land. It’s going to remain the law of the land until it’s replaced. We did not have quite the votes to replace this law. And so, yes, we’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Thank you very much. We were very close, very, very tight margins.

LISA DESJARDINS: President Trump pointed to a lack of Democratic votes and said he’s open to discussing another bill. But, for now, health care will stay as it is.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I have been saying for the last year-and-a-half that the best thing we can do, politically speaking, is let Obamacare explode, and it is exploding right now.

LISA DESJARDINS: This after a wild 24 hours of promises and pressure, with Vice President Pence meeting with the conservative Freedom Caucus today, and the White House standing by an ultimatum President Trump issued last night, that, if the bill failed, he wouldn’t return to the issue.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer today:

SEAN SPICER, White House Press Secretary: I know that the president’s made it clear that this is the effort, this was the train that’s leaving the station, and that he expects everyone — that this is our opportunity.

LISA DESJARDINS: Republicans also dangled some carrots, adding new changes last night to win votes. For moderates, they revived a Medicare tax on the wealthy, using the proceeds to help states increase health coverage, and for conservatives, a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s guarantee of basic, essential benefits, things like E.R. visits, prescriptions and preventative care.

Removing the essential benefits did sway some members.

Joe Barton of Texas:

REP. JOE BARTON, R-Texas: That is a big win for conservative values, so I am now a yes vote.

LISA DESJARDINS: Others refused to budge, including Barton’s fellow Texan Louie Gohmert.

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT, R-Texas: The president shouldn’t give any more energy. This was up to us. It wasn’t up to him. And I’m grateful that he spent as much effort trying as hard as he did.

LISA DESJARDINS: More no’s came from the ranks of moderates. The chair of House appropriations, New Jersey’s Rodney Frelinghuysen, cited cuts to Medicaid funding.

At the White House, President Trump said this morning he has no regrets.

QUESTION: Did you rush it, do you think?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We will see what happens.

LISA DESJARDINS: Mr. Trump also said he had full faith in Speaker Ryan moving forward.

But, by early afternoon, Ryan was at the White House, delivering the grim news on the bill’s prospects. Democrats, meanwhile, pointed to the Republicans’ disunity.

REP. NANCY PELOSI,  D-Calif., House Minority Leader: I think their mistake really was they were so focused on embarrassing the Affordable Care Act, rather than trying to improve it.

LISA DESJARDINS: Three months into their control of government, Republicans have a central political and policy platform to rebuild.

And this is a seismic moment. Speaker Ryan says, nonetheless, he’s moving to the next big mountain to climb, tax reform, even though accomplishing tax reform will now be harder, Judy, because they don’t have the savings that he was hoping for from health care reform.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Lisa, a lot of finger-pointing going on. What is your reading from talking to all the people you have talked to about why they couldn’t get this done?

LISA DESJARDINS: Yes, I want to try and set aside all the blame game — there is a lot of that — and focus on three things.

One, I just talked to Chairman Greg Walden, who was one of the co-authors of this bill. He said he felt that the goalposts kept moving from conservatives and moderates, that they would give them one thing, and then they would ask for more. That’s one factor.

Another, Republicans have a very large conference, but with that also comes large differences in policy, and they couldn’t bridge those. The third, Judy, the timeline, I think, was a very big factor. The Republicans shot for the moon here trying to pass a massive bill in just three weeks. That didn’t leave any breathing room for very serious concerns. And that’s why I think we saw this bill fail.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Lisa, what are Republicans saying about what they think the implications are for their party, for them?

LISA DESJARDINS: They’re worried about 2018.

Democrats would need a sweep to retake the House, but for the first time, I had two different Republican members tell me today they’re worried that that sweep is possible. And it’s not just about their individual elections, Judy, but this takes the kind of air out, all the energy out from conservative causes across the board.

They have been campaigning on this up and down, nonprofits, politicians, for seven years, and they’re just not sure where the energy now is going to come from for all of these groups that have been pushing for conservative causes for years.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, what about Speaker Ryan himself? How is he affected by this?

LISA DESJARDINS: I actually think Speaker Ryan is doing OK.

Our Julie Percha, producer up here, spoke to several members of the Freedom Caucus who had nothing but good things to say about Speaker Ryan. Also, in his benefit, Judy, it doesn’t look like anyone else wants his job right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hmm. That’s interesting. All right.

Lisa Desjardins at the Capitol, we thank you.

And now a view from the White House today.

Reporter Robert Costa of The Washington Post interviewed the president as the bill was being pulled from consideration.

And Robert joins me now in the studio.

Robert, the president called your cell phone. What did he say?

ROBERT COSTA, The Washington Post: Yes. He did. I was sitting over here in Arlington. It was a blocked number.

And he got right to the point. He said, “Bob, I’m pulling the bill.”

And he had just met with House Speaker Ryan. And he said the votes weren’t there.

My whip count had about three dozen Republicans who were probably not going to back the measure, but he said it was closer, about five to 12 votes away. And he said he’s ready to move on. He’s going to not hold the bill for a few days. He’s going to wait, in his words, to let it explode.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He said in his remarks to the group of reporters, the so-called pool there in the Oval Office, he said that it’s going to be — the next move is up to the Democrats.

Is that your sense of what they’re looking for, or are they just shoving it to the side now?

ROBERT COSTA: He seems to be open to a bipartisan deal.

We will see if that actually emerges. But I said, you’re kind of a non-ideological president, even though you’re a Republican. Maybe you’re more natural down the road doing something with the Democrats. He said, a lot of people may say that, and he said it with a chuckle.

But whether the Democrats would be willing to work with the president, we will have to see. I thought it was striking, though. He was pretty even-tempered. And he finished the conversation. I said, you have been in the presidency for 60 days. Have you learned anything? What’s the lesson here?

He said, “Just another day in paradise.”

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Robert, he didn’t give any sense of regret or a sense that something he did or his party did had gone wrong?

ROBERT COSTA: Not a bit of regret.

Defiance was the tone, even-tempered, but defiant. He said, if the premiums rise, in his words, by 100 percent or 70 percent or 200 percent, just publish the story at The Post. He said he’s going to blame the Democrats.

It was very partisan, very political. I also said, did you blame the speaker? You’re the newcomer to Washington, Mr. President. Do you blame the House speaker at all, as some of your allies are behind the scenes?

And he said three times, “I don’t blame Paul.”

JUDY WOODRUFF: So revealing, Robert Costa.

And you’re going to be hosting “Washington Week” a little later tonight on PBS.

ROBERT COSTA: Eight o’clock.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We will be watching.

ROBERT COSTA: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.

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