Guess what? Turns out Republicans have the votes to push health care legislation through the Senate, but they’ve been flummoxed because one supportive senator is in the hospital.
That was President Donald Trump’s view of where things stand Wednesday on Capitol Hill. And it’s not true.
Trump made the remarks a day after Senate GOP leaders discarded their drive to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. They lacked the votes to succeed, a not-so-minor snag that hadn’t changed.
The three GOP senators whose opposition sunk the Republican measure all remained against it, aides confirmed. That was Arizona’s John McCain, Kentucky’s Rand Paul and Maine’s Susan Collins.
On Twitter, Trump cited “very positive signs” from GOP Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and “two others.” He added: “we have the HCare Vote, but not for Friday!”
Murkowski never took a position on the bill, which was written quickly with little perusal by senators. She criticized the “lousy process” and said “substance matters.”
No top Republicans were talking about returning to the matter until they get the 50 votes they’d need to succeed, a tie Vice President Mike Pence would break.
South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the chamber’s No. 3 GOP leader, said if the bill’s sponsors “get to where they can get 50 votes or something, my guess is we’ll be coming back to it. That’s a big if.”
“That’s probably a question for a little bit down the road,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., a sponsor of the last failed bill, when asked when the push would be revisited. “We have to reassess and regroup.”
Trump saw things differently.
“We have the votes for health care. We have one senator that’s in the hospital. He can’t vote because he’s in the hospital,” he told reporters.
White House aides later said the hospitalized lawmaker Trump was talking about was Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., who turns 80 in December.
That came as news to Cochran.
“Thanks for the well-wishes,” he tweeted. “I’m not hospitalized, but am recuperating at home in Mississippi and look forward to returning to work soon.”
Cochran’s aides said he was being treated for a urological issue and could return to Washington if a vote was planned.
Trump later said the senator was “home recovering.”
The withdrawn bill, which Cassidy sponsored with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., would collapse much of Obama’s law into block grants states would receive to shape their own programs.
Trump offered two pathways to success that seem far-fetched and mutually exclusive.
First, he said Republicans would have the votes to succeed early next year. But starting this Sunday, Republicans controlling the Senate 52-48 and will no longer be able to win with just 50 votes. They’d need 60 votes, an impossibility thanks to unbroken Democratic opposition to repealing one of their party’s proudest achievements.
“They could try it again and again because they’re going to fail again and again,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a brief interview.
Congress could theoretically vote to renew the health care bill’s 50-vote protection next year. But GOP leaders are talking about first using that protection for their current top priority, tax cuts, not health care. And it’s unclear Republicans are eager to revisit the issue in an election year.
Trump also said he’d talk to Democrats “and I will see if I can get a health care plan that is even better.”
But there is no clear compromise between a GOP that’s made scrapping Obama’s law a guiding light for seven years and Democrats steadfast on protecting it.
The No. 2 Senate Democratic leader, Richard Durbin of Illinois, said the White House has yet to approach Democrats with a health care compromise and said he didn’t see what one might look like.
“Block grants to the states with inadequate funding?” Durbin said of the abandoned bill. “Cutbacks in Medicaid? Reductions in health insurance? Those are not good starting points for a bipartisan discussion.”
Trump said he was working on executive orders letting people buy health insurance across state lines and making it easier for them to join association health plans. Such plans let groups of people purchase insurance together for lower prices than individuals.
Democrats are wary of such ideas, worried they might expose customers with lesser coverage.
“I have to see it, but it could be a race to the bottom. Did he say anything about consumer protection, because that’s the question,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
Associated Press writer Catherine Lucey contributed.