Changes to the House GOP’s Obamacare repeal bill aimed at getting House Freedom Caucus members on board may have just cost leadership a sizable number of moderate Republican votes Wednesday night.
Leadership and members of the Tuesday Group dodged the media by slipping out a back entrance at the close of their meeting on the eve of the scheduled vote — signaling the whip count isn’t where it needs to be for the measure to pass the lower chamber.
The administration has been pulling out all the stops in an attempt to get members on board, with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price holding multiple meetings with lawmakers that remain on the fence throughout the week.
The tone of Freedom Caucus members, who were once considered the biggest threat to the legislation’s passage, dramatically shifted following their negotiations with the White House. While a deal has not been officially reached, the group appeared optimistic that changes to the House bill would include language to eliminate essential health benefits implemented under the Affordable Care Act — a request that was initially denied due to concerns it wouldn’t fit requirements of the Byrd Rule in the upper chamber.
Republican leaders appeared optimistic early in the night, with sources saying they were close to striking a consensus with lawmakers across the conference. When asked if the legislation was going to pass, Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry told reporters: “Yep, we’re going to be good,” while briefly popping out of the meeting with moderates.
While the Freedom Caucus had power in numbers, with the majority of its members vowing to vote against the measure until leadership agreed to shift the bill in a more conservative direction, the whip count for moderates remains unclear.
Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, one of the co-chairs of the Tuesday Group, released a statement following the meeting announcing he would vote no against the measure in its current form.
“After careful deliberation, I cannot support the bill and will oppose it. I believe this bill, in its current form, will lead to the loss of coverage and make insurance unaffordable for too many Americans, particularly for low-to-moderate income and older individuals,” Dent wrote, encouraging leadership to push back the vote.
“It was a productive meeting, obviously the Freedom Caucus has presented what it will take for them to make it to yeses, and I think there are a lot of members who will now have to evaluate things,” Rep. Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania, one of the few moderates who didn’t leave out the back entrance, said while exiting the late-night Tuesday Group meeting.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are scheduled to meet with the Freedom Caucus again Thursday morning.