Vice President Pence arrived at the National Governors Association summer meeting with one mission: to revive support for the flagging Republican plan to rewrite the nation’s health-care laws.
Instead of rousing cheers on the waterfront in Providence, R.I., Pence was greeted with an icy air of skepticism on a Friday as he pitched the legislation, which would reduce federal Medicaid funding and phase out coverage in dozens of states.
By Monday evening, when President Trump and Pence gathered a cluster of GOP senators in the Blue Room of the White House over plates of lemon ricotta agnolotti and grilled rib-eye steak, the measure was all but dead.
“The president talked about France and Bastille Day,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said in an interview Tuesday, recalling the president’s tales during dinner of parades and pomp from his recent trip to Paris.
Daines described the group’s conversation, which also touched on issues ranging from health care to the debt limit, as loose — as if Trump “sat down and went out to dinner with friends, acquaintances, people you work with. It was just dinner to talk about what’s going on.”
As the dinner ended, reality returned. Two more Republican senators had suddenly bolted from supporting the health-care bill, lifting the total number of Republicans opposed to four and effectively killing it.
“I was very surprised when the two folks came out last night,” Trump told reporters Tuesday. “We thought they were in fairly good shape.”
Yet the dramatic collapse of the GOP proposal in the Senate was hardly a shock to most, especially those intimately involved in a venture that has been stalled and fitful since the House passed its version in May.
The upheaval Monday night was a tipping point after weeks of burbling discontent within the party about whether passing the legislation made sense. Nearly every GOP senator was eager to check the box of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act they had long opposed — but many were also distressed by the possible costs of upending a law that has grown deep roots in states, risen in popularity and is relied upon by some Republican governors.
Moderates were always skittish about the drastic Medicaid cuts opposed by many of their governors. Conservatives were always unhappy with the scope of the Senate’s legislation, which they felt did not go far enough to gut the law.
And Trump was frequently disengaged, sporadically tweeting and making calls to on-the-fence senators but otherwise avoiding selling the bill at the kind of big rallies that he often holds on issues he champions.
“It has been obvious to me for some time, and likely obvious to the leaders, that up to 10 Republicans were uncomfortable with the bill and were thinking about voting against the motion to proceed,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a critic of the bill, said in an interview Tuesday. “So it’s surprising to me that after the administration failed to win over the governors this past weekend, there wasn’t more of a recognition of the fact that the bill was probably in fatal trouble.”
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