Republican leaders: Senate won’t vote on repeal

ALAN FRAM | 10/2/2017, 5:41 a.m.
Facing assured defeat, Republican leaders decided Tuesday not to even hold a vote on the GOP’s latest attempt to repeal ...
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., accompanied by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., left, and Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., right, speaks to reporters as Senate Republicans faced defeat on the Graham-Cassidy bill, the GOP's latest attempt to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday. The decision marked the latest defeat Andrew Harnik

WASHINGTON (AP) – Facing assured defeat, Republican leaders decided Tuesday not to even hold a vote on the GOP’s latest attempt to repeal the President Barack Obama’s health care law, surrendering on their last-gasp effort to deliver on the party’s banner campaign promise.

“The bill is dead as a door nail,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, leaving a luncheon where GOP senators decided against holding a futile roll call.

The decision marked the latest stinging rejection on the issue for President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. In July, the Republican-controlled Senate rejected three similar GOP measures, a failure that infuriated conservatives and prompted Trump to spend much of his summer tweeting insults at McConnell and other Republican senators for falling short.

McConnell, R-Kentucky, and other Republicans characterized the decision as a short-term setback. They needed to vote on the measure this week because procedural protections against a bill-killing Democratic filibuster expire Sunday, though they could revisit the issue in future months.

“We haven’t given up on changing the American health care system,” McConnell told reporters. “We aren’t going to be able to do it this week.”

But he made it clear that it was time for Republicans to turn away from trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They’ve been promising to erase that law since its 2010 enactment but have never rallied behind a plan to replace it.

“Where we go from here is tax reform,” he said, citing the next big GOP goal.

Rejection became all but inevitable Monday after Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins announced she opposed the legislation. She joined Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Texas’ Ted Cruz, who’d already said they opposed the measure. Cruz aides said he was seeking changes that would let him vote yes.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, did not reveal a definitive position but said that while changes in the ACA are needed, “substance matters.” Her state has extremely high health care costs, in part because of its many remote communities.

Because of their narrow majority and unified Democratic opposition, Republicans could lose just two GOP votes and still push the legislation through the Senate.

The retreat left the GOP’s next steps on health care unclear, especially with a president who in recent weeks has reached out to congressional Democratic leaders on high-agenda items like the budget and immigration.

Trump said in a meeting Tuesday with Republican and Democratic House members that he would work with Democrats on health care if the Republicans “didn’t get repeal done,” according to Rep. Richard Neal, R-Mass. Neal quoted Trump as saying, “You get a better deal if it’s bipartisan.”

It was unclear what compromise Trump could strike with Democrats between his stated desire to uproot the health care statute and Democrats defending what was perhaps Obama’s proudest domestic achievement.

Democrats rejoiced over the GOP’s retreat.

“Today, Americans breathe a sigh of relief because the health care of millions has been protected and preserved,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.