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Vote looming, House health care bill hasn’t yet won pivotal GOP support

March 22, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
Leading Republicans are pulling out all the stops in hopes of passing their health care bill, which would change the amount of money millions would receive to buy insurance and eventually end the Medicaid expansion. But GOP leaders may not have the votes they need, especially from the pivotal Freedom Caucus. Judy Woodruff speaks with Lisa Desjardins from Capitol Hill.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: President Trump is pressing hard on members of his own party for support of the Republican bill to replace Obamacare.

But, at this hour, it is not clear he has the votes. The House is scheduled to vote on the bill on Thursday. For millions, it would change the amount of money they receive to buy insurance and eventually end an expansion of Medicaid. Last week, the Congressional Budget Office estimated 24 million more people would be uninsured over a decade if it were to pass.

Lisa Desjardins reports on the battle from Capitol Hill.

LISA DESJARDINS: In the basement of the Capitol, House members heading to more predictable votes today conveyed the Republican divide over the big health care vote set for tomorrow.

New York’s Tom Reed became a yes in the last day, thanks to help for his district.

REP. TOM REED, R-N.Y.: I think just a continuation of the information, the improvements, as the detail come out. I think more and more members are getting more and more comfortable with it.

LISA DESJARDINS: But not New Jersey’s Leonard Lance, who met with the president yesterday.

He didn’t change your mind?

REP. LEONARD LANCE, R-N.J.: I think that he wanted to listen to members, and I was pleased he invited me and other members to meet with him.

LISA DESJARDINS: That sounds like a polite no. He didn’t change your mind.

REP. LEONARD LANCE: I was honored to be in the White House and to meet with the president.

LISA DESJARDINS: The semantic dance comes because GOP leaders may not have the votes they need, this as their bill hit its last stop before a final vote the House floor, the House Rules Committee. It’s stacked with bill supporters, but Republican Rob Woodall worried about noted the bumpy ride

REP. ROB WOODALL, R- Ga.: It seems like we’re going out of our way to make this more divisive than it has to be.

LISA DESJARDINS: Budget Chairman Diane Black aimed for pragmatic unity.

REP. DIANE BLACK, R-Tenn.: We all know that analogy that is made, it’s kind of like sausage, not pretty watching it being made, but tastes pretty good at the end when you get it right. So I think that that’s something we have to encourage all members to continue to bring their suggestions forward.

LISA DESJARDINS: Meantime, President Trump tried to wrangle votes, meeting with unhappy, and much needed, conservatives privately. Publicly, at least, he was confident.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We’re going to help get this done. We’re going to get it figured out. It’s a tough situation our country has been put in. It’s not easy.

LISA DESJARDINS: But the White House effort has still not won over the pivotal conservative Freedom Caucus.

Chairman Mark Meadows:

REP. MARK MEADOWS, R-N.C.: We had a great meeting with the vice president. You know, they are fully engaged, but I can say this at this particular point. We need changes to the underlying bill before we vote on it in the House.

LISA DESJARDINS: This as pressure keeps mounting from outside the Capitol. Among those whipping for no votes, and dinging those who vote yes, are prominent conservative groups the Heritage Foundation and Club for Growth.

Pushing in the opposite direction, the National Taxpayers Union, which came out for the bill today. As Republicans worked behind the scenes, Democrats were happy to provide public optics, with a flag-waving news conference celebrating the seventh anniversary of the Affordable Care Act.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi:

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., House Minority Leader: Today, we are gathered to say how proud we are of what was accomplished and contrast it with what is being proposed, will be less care for more money.

LISA DESJARDINS: The Democrats called up doctors, rural hospital workers, business owners and patients, all stressing opposition to Medicaid cuts in the GOP bill, as did former Vice President Biden.

JOSEPH BIDEN, Former Vice President of the United States: We are talking about eliminating close to a trillion dollars in benefits that go to people to able to meet the commitment we made that health care is a right and we’re transferring all that to the wealthy.

LISA DESJARDINS: But it is the current White House now in the spotlight.

QUESTION: Is there a plan B?

SEAN SPICER, White House Press Secretary: This is no plan B. There is plan A and plan A. We’re going to get this done.

LISA DESJARDINS: An emphatic message to Republicans from the White House press secretary.

SEAN SPICER: This is it. If you want to see Obamacare repealed and replaced, this is the vote.

LISA DESJARDINS: And if they say no? To that, President Trump said today, “We will see what happens.”

And just in the past few minutes, we have some news out of the Freedom Caucus. Reporters say that the chairman of that caucus, Mark Meadows, who we featured, now says he’s encouraged by negotiations, and he sees some headway. That’s different than a yes, but indicates perhaps some movement late tonight.

Also, as we speak, the House Rules Committee right above me is still meeting. They have been at it since 10:00 this morning. So far, no changes to the bill, but they’re expected to go late tonight, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Lisa, and as you showed, there have been a few members throughout the day who are now saying they’re shifting in the direction of yes, that they have been persuaded by specific promises. So what do you know about that?

LISA DESJARDINS: They’re absolutely is horse-trading going on today.

Two cases that we know about for sure, Pennsylvania’s Lou Barletta, he tweeted out that he is now a yes after getting a guarantee from House leadership for a vote on a bill that he wants that would end — that would ban tax credits for undocumented immigrants. Also, Steve King of Iowa, he is now a yes, sources tell me, because he has gotten an assurance that the president will push for some insurance regulation changes in the Senate.

Now, those are two new yes votes, Judy, but there’s also at least two, probably more, new no votes, some on the record, some off the record. So it’s very fluid. I think it’s hard to draw conclusions right now about where this bill is.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Lisa, what about those who are truly still on the fence? What is known about what they want or what they need to vote?

LISA DESJARDINS: Here’s what conservatives want. Conservatives say they want this bill to include a full repeal of the individual mandate and also of the essential benefits that says what must be in insurance packages.

The leadership in the House and Senate say they can’t do that because of the rules of the reconciliation process, because of the way the Senate works. The House Freedom Caucus says they’re not so sure that’s true. So they’re having a procedural argument, but it also is about substance. It’s about trying to end the mandate, which they don’t think this bill does. That’s a lot of the discussion right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, Lisa, will the Republican leadership go ahead and hold a vote tomorrow if they’re not sure they have the votes?

LISA DESJARDINS: You know, I spoke to one member who told me that he has heard that Speaker Ryan will hold the vote regardless, but that’s just one member.

And history tell us, Judy, usually, if they don’t have the votes, speakers will pull the bill. But we’re in unusual times, as we all know.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We are in unusual times.

Lisa Desjardins, thank you.

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