Facing a growing rebellion within his own ranks, Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the Republican Obamacare replacement plan from the House floor on Friday just before a scheduled vote.
The decision is a staggering defeat for Ryan and President Donald Trump in their first attempt to partner on major legislation and fulfill a seven-year Republican promise to repeal Obamacare. And it comes a day after Trump issued an ultimatum to House Republicans to vote for the bill or live with Obamacare.
GOP lawmakers decided they can, in fact, live with Obamacare, at least for now.
A Republican leadership aide said Trump and Ryan spoke by phone at 3 p.m. and that the president asked the speaker to pull the bill. Ryan told reporters that his advice to Trump was to cancel the vote.
But the reality is that Ryan and his leadership team had been bleeding votes all day and were not close to passing the American Health Care Act. The speaker went to the White House and told Trump as much just an hour earlier.
Republicans were begging Ryan and party leaders to pull the bill to save them from having to vote on an unpopular measure. But Trump badly wanted to move ahead so he would “know who my friends are,” he said, according to a Republican lawmaker who met with him. Democrats were unwavering in their opposition, and conservative outside groups despised the bill from the start.
And while GOP leaders had called Trump “the ulimate closer,” he wasn’t able to move many votes, especially among hard-line conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus. Trump admitted after the bill was pulled that he was “10 to 15 votes” shy of victory, a stunning margin considering how much effort he and Ryan had put into their lobbying campaign during the last week.
Ryan also knew, though, that if the bill had come up for a vote, it would have failed by a much larger margin than the whip counts. Once rank-and-file members knew it would fail, they’d reverse course and vote “no” in order to protect themselves politically, which their leaders would bless. That much larger margin of defeat would be an even bigger setback for Trump. In a sense, Ryan protected Trump from his own combative instincts, said GOP insiders.
“I will not sugarcoat this, this is a disappointing day for us,” Ryan said at a press conference following the stunning announcement. “This is a setback, no two ways about it.”
Ryan admitted that the Affordable Care Act, enacted seven years earlier almost to the day, “remains the law of the land… We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”
Ryan insisted Trump was not at fault for the failure.
“The president gave his all in this effort,” Ryan added. “He’s been fantastic.”
The Freedom Caucus — the group that took down Speaker John Boehner — remained unwilling to compromise with Trump and Ryan, believing that their bill didn’t do nearly enough to unwind Obamacare.
“Some of the members of that caucus were voting with us, but not enough were,” Ryan said. “I met with their chairman today, and he made it clear that the votes weren’t going to be there from their team. And that was sufficient to provide the balance of votes to have this not pass.”
Democrats, for their part, were doing cartwheels in the Capitol. They’ve bloodied Trump, bashed Ryan, and showed that even in a GOP-run Washington, they still matter big time.
“Today is a great day for our country,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “It’s a victory. What happened on the floor is a victory for the American people — for our seniors, for people with disabilities, for our children, for our veterans.”
On the other side of the aisle, the internal GOP finger-pointing has already begun, showing the long-term damage inside the Republican Conference from this fight.
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), who helped craft the Republican health care legislation, was livid after the decision to pull the bill.
“The architects of Obamacare, they own this damn thing,” the Texas Republican said. “There were people who were not interested in solving the problem. They win today.”
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), a member of the Freedom Caucus, said the bill’s demise was a “good day for America.”
Despite Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows’ central role in defeating the bill and thus leaving Obamacare as the law of the land, the North Carolina Republican insisted he still wanted to repeal the Democratic health care law.
“I remain wholeheartedly committed to following through on this promise,” Meadows said in a statement. “President Trump is committed to repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a system that works for American families, and I look forward to working with him to do just that.”
Trump has staked his early presidency on repealing and replacing Obamacare, embracing his image as a dealmaker and closer throughout the process. House leaders were happy to oblige as well, referring to Trump as “the ultimate closer” as he met with reluctant House members.
“He’s left everything on the field when it comes to this bill,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Friday afternoon, describing Trump as working tirelessly to get the bill across the finish line. He added, “You can’t force someone to vote a certain way.”