Rep. Robert Aderholt was among a bloc of conservatives threatening to tank the Republican health care plan when President Donald Trump summoned him to the White House on Friday.
At a meeting with more than a dozen other lawmakers wary of the legislation, Aderholt told Trump he was worried that elderly Americans would be hit with huge premium increases. But Trump prevailed on him, looking Aderholt in the eye and promising: “These are my people and I will not let them down. We will fix this for them.”
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Aderholt switched his vote in favor right then and there.
House Republican leaders and Trump hustled behind the scenes Friday to whip support for Speaker Paul Ryan’s replacement bill — and the efforts appeared to be paying off.
After promising to make a number of tweaks to the current draft — changes aimed at winning over conservatives and centrist Republicans — GOP leaders felt confident enough to schedule a floor vote on the bill Thursday, seven years to the day that Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act.
Much of that confidence stems from Trump’s hands-on involvement. He summoned leaders of the House Republican Study Committee to the White House Friday and emerged saying he had won them over. Indeed, sources in the room told POLITICO he went around the room and asked each member if they’d vote for his bill — and each one of them gave the president the answer he wanted. Trump also said he wanted “everyone to know I’m 100 percent behind” the plan.
“I … want everyone to know that all of these no’s or potential no’s are all yeses,” Trump said afterward of his discussions with lawmakers. “Every single person sitting in this room is now a yes.”
A senior administration official called the Oval Office meeting a “turning point.” But it’s still far from certain that Republicans have the 216 votes needed to pass the bill. Several House Freedom Caucus members emerged from a closed-door GOP meeting Friday morning and said the changes discussed weren’t enough to earn their support. Sources told POLITICO there could be a few more tweaks to the bill, but none that would go as far as the Freedom Caucus has been demanding.
It’s also unclear whether some moderates who were critical of Ryan’s blueprint are now on board. Starting Monday, the president plans to reach out to more centrist Republicans.
But GOP leaders think they’re close to finding what Ryan called the “sweet spot” — a bill that can garner just enough of the far-right while keeping enough centrist Republicans for passage.
“The president laid these [revisions] out and said, ‘Look, with these changes, I’m 1,000 percent behind this bill. I want you to vote for this bill. Can you vote for this bill?’” recalled Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who was in the room Friday morning helping Trump whip votes. “And every member in the room said yes, which was significant. …That’s a major, major turnaround and real momentum shifter for where we are. It shows this president’s been willing to roll up his sleeves and get in the middle of a negotiation and actually get people to yes.”
Trump called in more than a dozen leaders of the Republican Study Committee who had major issues with the bill. They included Chairman Mark Walker, who previously said he could not vote for the initial draft, and Freedom Caucus member Gary Palmer, who voted against the measure in committee. They all left in support, though, after the president blessed a pair of changes involving Medicaid that conservatives had sought.
Walker called the turnabout a “big win for conservatives.”
“We had eight members of our steering committee that as of yesterday were either undecided or lean no,” Walker told reporters after the White House meeting with Trump. “Based on these two requests, [they] all moved to yes today.”
Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), another leader of the Republican Study Committee who attended the meeting, said he and his colleagues were negotiating with House leadership until midnight Thursday night to get to an agreement on changes that the conservative bloc wants. When they arrived at the White House on Friday, all they needed was Trump’s consent, which he provided.
“The president asked us directly individually, will you vote for that if we make these changes,” Loudermilk said. The president went around the room. “We were all a yes.”
At the GOP conference meeting on Capitol Hill Friday, Ryan told lawmakers about two potential changes to the bill, both of them relatively significant reforms to Medicaid. One would allow states to require some Medicaid enrollees to seek work or education in order to qualify for the program. The other would allow states to transform their Medicaid programs into a block grant, another conservative idea meant to rein in costs and let states run the program.
They also discussed beefing up health care tax credits for the elderly, a concern shared by a number of congressional Republicans. A controversial budget scoring of the bill found that older Americans in the future could pay as much as $14,000 for premiums compared to $1,700 under Obamacare, alarming lawmakers.
Not everyone in the GOP conference is satisfied with where the bill stands. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a member of the moderate Tuesday Group, said Friday he’s still waiting for more details. Freedom Caucus Member Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) scoffed at two of the changes mentioned and said they would not change his mind, though he said he’d have to see the final language.
Labrador did not seem happy about the Friday negotiations.
“They’re buying off people one by one with these little changes, and if people just want little changes to the bill, they’re going to be able to be bought off,” he said. “But [the Freedom Caucus is] talking about significant changes to the bill.”
Even Trump supporter Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) said he wasn’t sure that leadership had the votes and that he’s still leaning against the legislation: “I think there’s an understanding that people have some real concerns with the whole bill.”
Despite the resistance from some quarters, GOP leaders were elated by Friday’s sequence of events. They feel they have momentum at their back, and they’re confident they can pass the bill next week.
“This is a great day!” Scalise exclaimed.