WASHINGTON ― After most members of the House Freedom Caucus met with Vice President Mike Pence in his office on Wednesday ― and a smaller group of them met with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office ― conservatives in the hard-right group reassembled on Capitol Hill and promised to vote down the GOP’s health care bill, should it come up for a vote.
“They don’t have the votes to pass this tomorrow,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told reporters on Wednesday. “We believe that they need to start over and do a bill that actually reduces premiums.”
The Freedom Caucus had gone to the White House hoping to negotiate a last-minute deal that would allow the roughly three-dozen member group ― or at least some members of it ― to support the health care bill that’s up for a vote on Thursday.
But Pence and other aides told them that they couldn’t make legislative changes to the bill in the House. Instead, Pence offered to back amendments in the Senate to address the concerns of conservatives.
That does not appear to have moved anyone. In fact, Freedom Caucus member Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said it was his understanding that there were more Republicans opposed to the bill on Wednesday than the day before.
The White House believes adding the provisions the Freedom Caucus wants could undermine the privileged status of the reconciliation bill in the Senate and subject the whole bill to 60 votes, rather than the 50-vote reconciliation process Republicans are hoping for, members reported.
But conservatives don’t buy that argument.
“We have very good sources, that [say] the only thing that’s toxic are jurisdictional issues,” Meadows said on Wednesday afternoon. “There are no jurisdictional issues with Title I and [Essential Health Benefits] repeal.”
Meadows and his conservative colleagues propose eliminating the 10 Essential Health Benefits that insurance plans must offer, as well as gutting language in Title I of the Affordable Care Act about what constitutes a “qualified health plan,” thus lowering premiums by virtue of weakening coverage.
Making those changes could cost Republicans votes from moderates, because creating gaps in coverage would financially punish people who need more services, while letting other people pick plans that cover less. For instance, older consumers could choose plans that don’t offer maternity care, but women of childbearing age would be left paying for more expensive insurance that does cover those services.
But without those changes, the Freedom Caucus swears it will vote down the bill on Thursday and hand House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), as well as Trump, an embarrassing floor defeat.
Asked why GOP leaders were continuing with the scheduled vote, Meadows said he believed they actually thought they could get the bill over the line by applying pressure and relying on Trump to make the case. But he ultimately didn’t think those strategies would work.
“Nothing in D.C. is 100 percent,” Meadows said, “but based on the resolve and the lack of changes in the bill, I would be very doubtful that it would pass.”
According to a whip count compiled by The Huffington Post and reviewed by multiple members with a sense of the vote situation, GOP leaders are well short of the 216 votes they need to pass the bill (or 215, if Democrat Bobby Rush is, as expected, absent). Meanwhile, 21 or 22 votes against the bill will sink it, depending on absences.
The HuffPost whip count breaks opposition to the Republican health care bill into multiple categories. House Freedom Caucus members helped HuffPost identify who was so strongly against the legislation that pressure from Trump would not swing them. While we have not independently verified the positions of every member on the list, we have verified most of them, and are basing some predictions on other members’ knowledge.
Because this is our best guess as to where things currently stand with the vote, changes to the bill could change positions. The Freedom Caucus appears to be voting mostly as a bloc, so some changes could dramatically affect the whip count. But there could also be a number of members who are opposed to the bill and not sharing their thoughts, meaning the current whip count could be even worse.
With those considerable caveats in mind, here is our working list, as of Wednesday:
Members extremely likely to be against 32 (+5 since Tuesday): Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wa.), Rod Blum (R-Iowa), Dave Brat (R-Va.), Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), Ken Buck (R-Colo.), Ted Budd (R-N.C.), Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Tom Garrett (R-Va.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Andy Harris (R-Md.), Jody Hice (R-Ga.), Mike Johnson (R-La.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Scott Perry (R-Pa.), Bill Posey (R-Fla.), Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Randy Weber (R-Texas), Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), David Young (R-Iowa).
Members leaning against (13): Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), John Katko (R-N.Y.), Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Glenn Thompson (R-Pa..), Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), Rob Wittman (R-Va.).
Undecided members (7): Brian Babin (R-Texas), Joe Barton (R-Texas), Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), Ryan Costello (R-Pa.), Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), Scott Tipton (R-Colo.).
Ryan Grim contributed to this report.