WASHINGTON ― Senate Republicans, after holding closed-door meetings with President Donald Trump and senior administration officials on their still-secret health care bill, declared Tuesday that actually, they are being transparent.
“Nobody’s hiding the ball here. You’re free to ask anybody anything,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters, when asked about the charge from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that Republicans are “ashamed” of the Obamacare repeal bill they are writing.
Although Republicans later backed down, just two hours before McConnell spoke they had tried to bar reporters from asking questions in public hallways outside of hearing rooms.
That juxtaposition with McConnell’s “ask anybody anything” line brought ringing scorn on Twitter.
McConnell was not alone in asserting transparency.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.), one of Obamacare’s most vehement critics, said Democrats were just griping about the process. But he claimed that process will be entirely transparent ― once the GOP is done writing the bill.
“Now we hear [Democrats] complaining about transparency,” Barrasso said. “The Republican Senate bill, under reconciliation, will go to the Senate floor, and be open for amendments. It will be an open amendment process.”
The efforts to undo the Affordable Care Act, as Obamacare is formally known, are moving ahead through a so-called reconciliation process that allows bills that affect the budget to pass with just 51 votes, instead of the 60 usually required in the Senate.
Republicans have been struggling to find 51 members who agree on a measure, and have been working in closed-door groups to come up with a bill ever since the House passed a measure that would leave an additional 23 million people without insurance coverage.
McConnell also suggested that new hearings weren’t required because Democrats and Republicans had held them in the past.
“There’ve been gazillions of hearings on this subject, when they were in the majority, when we were in the majority,” McConnell said. “We understand this issue pretty well, and we’re now working on coming up with a solution.”
Schumer chuckled at McConnell’s claim that no one was “hiding the ball.”
“No hearings, no chance to make amendments? I take total issue with it,” Schumer said. “I have never seen such legislative malpractice, by any leader, as this.”
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) noted that McConnell had once been a strong advocate for transparency when Democrats passed Obamare after more than a year of hearings and 25 hours of debate on the Senate floor.
Bennet quoted McConnell saying then: “Above all, he said, the American people, above all, they are tired of a process that shuts them out. They are tired of giant bills negotiated in secret, then jammed through on a party line vote in the middle of the night.”
“Let me put it this way,” Bennet added. “If the process we had wasn’t enough... what they’re giving is really giving the back of their hand to the American people.”
The retracted bid to bar interviews in the hallways did not escape Schumer either.
“They’re afraid to talk about their health care bill, so they’re trying to move cameras away,” Schumer said. “They’re really ashamed of the bill they have.”
An unlikely figure joined Schumer in his criticism of Republican health care efforts on Tuesday: Trump reportedly told GOP senators in a meeting at the White House that the repeal bill passed by the House was “mean.”