WASHINGTON ― Faced with the increasingly clear reality that House conservatives will vote down the Republican health care bill, GOP leaders may be moving toward reopening negotiations on their Affordable Care Act rewrite.
Or Republicans may be moving closer to an embarrassing floor defeat.
Members of the House Freedom Caucus swear they won’t be swayed by public or private pressure from President Donald Trump, and even after Trump met with House Republicans Tuesday morning, HFC Republicans reported that their positions had not changed and would not change without substantial amendments to the bill.
“This isn’t the 1990s,” Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) said Tuesday afternoon. “There’s an internet now. They used to be able to corral people much more easily. Today we’re in a different world.”
Given the conservative obstinance, GOP leaders are quietly trying to figure out what it would take to get at least some of the Freedom Caucus onboard with the health care bill, which is supposed to come up for a vote on Thursday.
Chief deputy whip Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) spent a good amount of time on the House floor Tuesday talking with Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) about the changes HFC members want. And Meadows reported that McHenry was trying to figure out what it would take to get at least some of the Freedom Caucus to support the bill.
“McHenry is doing what he does effectively well, and saying, ‘Is there something that can get you to yes,’” Meadows said. “And we’ve articulated that.”
Even the White House might now be acknowledging that once-closed negotiations aren’t quite over. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said it was “possible” there would be additional changes to the bill.
The Freedom Caucus is now pushing for the elimination of certain minimum coverage standards mandated by the Affordable Care Act ― the so-called “Essential Health Benefits,” which are minimum services that insurance plans must offer, like hospitalization and lab services. Conservatives also have their sights on similar language in Title I of the ACA that constitutes a “Qualified Health Plan.” Eliminating those mandates would lower premiums because insurers could offer plans with huge gaps in coverage.
Leaders have told conservatives those changes would require 60 votes in the Senate under the Byrd rule, but members don’t seem to buy that reasoning, with some questioning why senators couldn’t then just strip that language if necessary.
If Republicans don’t negotiate and proceed with the vote, some conservatives seem to think they’ll be in a better position to extract concessions from leadership, though Meadows said Tuesday he was trying to prevent the vote from failing.
“I’m doing everything I can to make sure it doesn’t go down,” he said. “I do believe that as long as they think that they can get the votes, there will be a lack of willingness to negotiation in good faith.”
Either way, leaders are confronting a whip count that is well short of the 216 votes Republicans need to pass the measure. A loose list compiled by The Huffington Post and reviewed by multiple members with a sense of the vote situation shows considerable opposition to the bill.
The HuffPost whip count broke down opposition into multiple categories, with members helping to refine who was so strongly against the legislation that pressure from Trump would not swing them. While we have not independently verified every member on the list, we have verified most, and are basing some positions on the knowledge of other members.
Again, this is our best guess as to where things currently stand with the vote, meaning changes to the bill could change positions. But there could also be a number of members who are opposed to the bill but are not sharing their feeling, meaning the current whip count could be even worse.
With those considerable caveats in mind, here is our working list, as of Wednesday:
29 members extremely likely to be against (Change since Tuesday: +2): Justin Amash (R-Mich.), 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), 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), Steve King (R-Iowa), Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), Leonard Lance (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.), Randy Weber (R-Texas), Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.).
12 members leaning against (Change since Tuesday: +2): Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), 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.).
7 undecided members (Change since Tuesday: -1): Brian Babin (R-Texas), Joe Barton (R-Texas), Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), Ryan Costello (R-Pa.), Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), Don Young (R-Alaska), Michael McCaul (R-Texas).
Jeffrey Young contributed to this report. The list of where members stand has been updated.