President Trump Pushes GOP Health Care Bill On Capitol Hill

Mar 21, 2017
Originally published on March 21, 2017 11:50 pm
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President Trump was on Capitol Hill today, leaning hard on House Republicans to vote for their party's health care bill to replace the Affordable Care Act. The bill faces opposition from a group of hardline conservatives. The House vote is scheduled in just two days. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis reports from Capitol Hill on the president's push to close this deal.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: President Trump wields a big shtick, and at today's meeting with House Republicans, he was not afraid to use it, says North Carolina lawmaker Richard Hudson.

RICHARD HUDSON: I'm trying to think of a good analogy. It was kind of like the "Blue Collar Comedy Tour" where you got the one guy who's performing and the other guys sitting that are kind of - he's feeding off of.

DAVIS: Trump performed for 45 minutes, and that other guy sitting there was House Speaker Paul Ryan. The president and the speaker are working together to pass their bill to repeal and replace key pillars of the Affordable Care Act. But they're not there yet, so Trump relied on a familiar routine. He praised the lawmakers who are with him on the bill and called out the ones who are not. Texas Republican Bill Flores says the president busted the chops of one Republican in particular.

BILL FLORES: Yeah, Mark Meadows he called out two or three times.

DAVIS: North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows is the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, a faction of about 30 hardline conservatives who are the leading opponents to the Republican's health care bill. They say it doesn't go far enough to repeal the law and that there's not enough guarantees it will lower costs. So Trump singled out Meadows by joking - at least Republicans say they think it was a joke - that he would campaign next year against lawmakers who vote against him. Again, here's Flores.

FLORES: (Laughter) The reaction when he said, Mark Meadows, I'm coming after you, was pretty loud cheers.

DAVIS: The Freedom Caucus built its name in the tea party era by opposing Republican Party leaders who had to work with President Obama. Meadows also played a leading role to force out former Speaker John Boehner. But their brand of conservative troublemaking is chafing their colleagues more now that a Republican is in the White House and the party has a chance to get their agenda signed into law. New York lawmaker Chris Collins says the president made clear there will be consequences if Republicans defeat their own bill.

CHRIS COLLINS: He said we would lose the House and the Senate if we don't get this passed.

DAVIS: With the vote scheduled for Thursday, Collins says this is a defining moment for these conservatives.

COLLINS: It's a binary choice for them. They are the far-right that want a more dramatic cut, if you will, in Obamacare. But if they vote no, then they get Obamacare for eternity. It's a binary choice, and they have to struggle with that over the next three days.

DAVIS: Meadows says he didn't take Trump's singling out personally. It also didn't move his vote. He's still a no, and his vote count hasn't changed.

MARK MEADOWS: I've had no indication that any of my Freedom Caucus colleagues have switched their vote.

DAVIS: Meadows says he thinks there's still time to negotiate.

MEADOWS: I certainly still think the president is the best guy to bring this home and close this deal out. Hopefully we'll be able to do that. But if everyone's entrenched at this particular point, it's going to be a very difficult 48 hours.

DAVIS: The vast majority of Republicans support this bill. Chris Collins estimates they're about a dozen votes shy of what they need to pass it. The president has been picking up votes one by one. Texas Republican Blake Farenthold got on board just last week following a personal appeal from Trump at the White House. His reasoning is simple.

BLAKE FARENTHOLD: I'd hate to go back home to Texas and say I had the opportunity to repeal Obamacare, and I didn't.

DAVIS: Conservatives like Meadows will have to decide this week whether it's better to go home and say they voted with President Trump or stood against him. Susan Davis, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.