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It's not dead yet, House Republicans insist of effort to repeal Obamacare

By Lesley Clark
McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON – Days after the spectacular collapse of the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare, House leaders said Tuesday it’s not dead yet – but they offered few details on timing, how divisions within the party would be overcome or any new provision on which they could agree.

The Senate was skeptical, meanwhile, and the White House, which has suggested it may work with Democrats on a fix, said there’s no immediate plan to revive the push.

But House Republicans, who have promised for seven years to repeal the 2010 law, said they’ve found new resolve in the wake of their embarrassing inability Friday to vote on a measure that would have replaced the law known as the Affordable Care Act.

“The general consensus was ‘Let’s get it done,’ ” said Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., who supported the bill last week. “It’s something the American people have demanded that we do. We’re going to press on until we get it done.”

The renewed effort came as House Republicans met behind closed doors for the first time since Friday afternoon when House Speaker Paul Ryan was forced to pull the GOP substitute legislation from the floor, lacking the votes among his members to get it passed and raising questions about Republicans’ ability to govern.

Conservative members believed the legislation didn’t go far enough to repeal the Affordable Care Act, while more moderate members were worried about estimates that more than 24 million Americans could lose coverage under the bill.

Ryan, who conceded Friday that President Barack Obama’s signature accomplishment would remain the “law of the land,” spoke with Trump over the weekend and went to the White House on Monday. After the meeting Tuesday he suggested some of his members may be ready for compromise.

“Some of those who were in the ‘no’ camp expressed a willingness to work on getting to ‘yes’ and to making this work,” Ryan said. “We want to get it right. We’re going to keep talking to each other until we get it right.”

Members of the House Freedom Caucus, which Trump has blamed for the loss, said they would be open to finding a fix.

“We’re looking at all kinds of options to get to yes,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the caucus chairman.

Ryan declined to lay out a time line “because this is too important to not get right and to put an artificial time line on,” though the House last week had unsuccessfully tried to time its repeal vote on the seventh anniversary of Obama signing the bill into law.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, appeared resigned that the battle over Obamacare is over, at least for now.

“Our Democratic friends ought to be pretty happy about that, because we have the existing law in place,” McConnell told reporters. “And I think we’re just going to have to see how that works out. We believe it will not work out.”

Asked about House plans for a do-over, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the No. 3 Senate Republican, said it’s “entirely” up to the House.

“It’s going to be entirely up to them and what they can pass,” he said. “That’s a calculation they’re going to have to make.”

The White House was less committal. Trump, who had initially blamed Democrats for the bill’s collapse, in recent days has turned fire on the House Freedom Caucus, tweeting it had snatched defeat “from the jaws of victory.” And he suggested in a tweet that Democrats would want to work with him if the law implodes.

Press secretary Sean Spicer said the administration has talked with “a lot of individuals on both sides of the aisle” but said there was no “immediate strategy.”

Though Trump and Ryan have talked several times, Spicer said the White House has not “picked a strategy and we’re going to go with this group or that group.”

The White House and lawmakers face a complicated “balancing act” in making changes to the legislation, Spicer said.

“Can you add additional folks on without pushing additional folks off?” he said.

Lawmakers are also constrained by technical reasons, with the House and Senate now using a reconciliation process that makes it easier to pass legislation without Democratic support.

Trump has opened the door to working with Democrats, but they made a few conditions of their own.

Before they’d consider working with Trump he’d first have to rescind the executive action that he enacted on his first day in office that seeks to scale back the federal law that has provided health insurance to 20 million Americans, said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

“Drop repeal, drop it today and drop it for good. Stop undermining the Affordable Care Act,” Schumer said. “Once those things are done, we Democrats are more than happy to sit down together and come up with ways to make the law work better. We never said it was perfect. We’re willing to make changes.”

Republicans said they spoke to each other bluntly in the meeting with “a lot of angst and a lot of unhappiness” much of it aimed at the House Freedom Caucus, said caucus member Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas.

But Weber, who said he helped lead a standing ovation for Ryan, said the meeting helped members clear the air.

“I think there’s a path forward,” he said.

He defended the House Freedom Caucus against charges that it had let down Trump and its Republican colleagues. He noted that caucus members had been among Trump’s biggest supporters.

“We stood up for what we thought was a bad bill,” he said. “We felt if the president had his name (on the bill) it would be bad for him as well.”

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