Freedom Caucus Squares Off With GOP Leadership As Health Care Vote Nears

"A defining moment for the Freedom Caucus."

WASHINGTON ― As House Republicans scramble for votes on their health care overhaul, GOP leaders are betting that a visit from President Donald Trump on Tuesday will help close the deal on the legislation ― and House Freedom Caucus leaders are swearing it will not.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) emerged from the group’s weekly meeting late Monday night to tell reporters he was confident House leaders did not have the votes to pass their Affordable Care Act rewrite and that, even with pressure from Trump, conservatives would not waver.

“This is not a decision made on personalities,” Meadows said. “It’s made on policy.”

Meadows said that, without the changes the Freedom Caucus has demanded, it would be “very difficult, if not impossible” for leaders to find the votes to pass their health care bill.

“This is a defining moment for our nation, but it’s also a defining moment for the Freedom Caucus,” Meadows said.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chair of the House Freedom Caucus does not expect a visit from the president to change conservati
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chair of the House Freedom Caucus does not expect a visit from the president to change conservatives' minds.

While Meadows was cagey about an exact whip count ― as well as whether some members of the group might waver if Trump applied all the pressure at his disposal ― other Freedom Caucus members were confident that conservatives controlled their own destiny.

Reporters staking out the Freedom Caucus meeting Monday night couldn’t help but notice that the group of nearly 40 conservatives had not taken an official position against the Republican legislation, a potential signal that the caucus was split and opposition might not be as monolithic as some members wanted to present. But members assured reporters that leaders didn’t have the votes.

“We took a position weeks ago. Our position has not changed,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said.

“They don’t have the votes to pass it,” Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) said.

Asked if there were enough members opposed in the Freedom Caucus alone to sink the bill ― meaning there were at least 21 in the group who would vote against the bill ― Amash said that was “absolutely” the case.

“And there are others outside of the Freedom Caucus not voting for it as well,” Amash added.

They don’t have the votes to pass it. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), House Freedom Caucus member

GOP leaders made their own moves late Monday night, releasing a manager’s amendment that would assuage some concerns of less hard-line conservatives and GOP moderates. Republican leaders, as promised, added language for the optional block-granting of Medicaid, as well as optional Medicaid work requirements. At the same time, in a nod to moderates, the amendment would add funding to help individuals with high health care costs, though it does not explicitly detail how much money would go to that endeavor and is indecipherable from the legislative language.

A section-by-section analysis from one of the committees with jurisdiction over the legislation says the amendment “would provide the financing for additional support for those with high health care costs before the bill goes to the Senate.” In effect, Republicans are saying the House has to pass the bill to find out what exactly is in it.

Republicans also added language to win over reluctant New York Republicans. The language ― which we’re referring to as The Buffalo Buyout ― would prevent New York from requiring rural counties to kick in to cover Medicaid costs.

The late backroom changes and deal sweeteners undermine Speaker Paul Ryan’s promise of an open legislative process, but even with the slapdash lawmaking, leaders continue to project confidence with regard to the bill. Late Monday, on Fox News, Speaker Ryan (R-Wis.) once again expressed confidence that Republicans would pass their health care legislation this week, and leaders are hopeful that Trump’s appearance before House Republicans Tuesday morning will push them over the top.

But without the coverage changes to lower premiums that Freedom Caucus members have been demanding, conservatives think the legislation is doomed.

Asked what would happen Monday night if leadership didn’t make the changes they wanted, Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) simply said, “That means that the bill is going to fail.”

And was Labrador confident of that?

“I’m confident of that. Yes.”