President Donald Trump put his full backing behind the GOP health care bill at a House Republican Conference meeting Tuesday, warning members they could lose re-election if they vote against the measure.
Trump was addressing House Republicans just days before a planned Thursday vote to repeal and replace significant parts of the Affordable Care Act, with GOP leaders still scrambling to rally enough support to pass the bill. Republicans rolled out policy and technical changes to the legislation Monday night to bring more members on board.
Lawmakers departing the closed-door meeting said Trump warned voting against the bill could lead to problems during the 2018 midterm elections.
“He said it could be that some that do not support this bill, that this could be the danger of you not voting for the bill. That you could lose your seat,” said Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), who said he is planning to vote against the measure.
“What he was alluding to is that the American people are so behind this bill, that it could have a negative effect,” Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) said.
Republican leaders appear ready to call the bluffs of wavering members, which are coming from both the moderate and conservative flanks of the party. Some centrist Republicans with concerns planned to go to the White House Tuesday afternoon, while Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) who chairs the House Freedom Caucus, was to meet with Vice President Mike Pence, according to CNN.
Meadows said Tuesday he still plans to vote against the bill, and that by his count, GOP leaders still did not have the necessary 216 votes in the House.
During the House conference meeting, Trump specifically called out Meadows, urging him to change his mind, according to attendees. But Meadows told reporters Tuesday he’s still against the bill because it doesn’t do enough to lower premiums across the board.
He said it’s his understanding that negotiations on the bill are over, but he placed the blame on House leaders rather than on the White House.
“There is definite separation between the president and the leadership,” he said. “I think that leadership is the one that has said that negotiations are over and has convinced those in the administration that that is a position that they should support.”
House Republicans are being pressured from all sides.
Heritage Action, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, announced Tuesday that it would put out a statement against the legislation and urge members to vote no unless additional changes come forward that would repeal the Obamacare insurance regulations — another concern among some conservative members.
The Club for Growth, a top conservative outside group, also launched an ad campaign against the bill, targeting moderate lawmakers who could be vulnerable to primary challenges in 10 districts, spanning from Rep. John Katko in New York to Rep. Darrell Issa in California.
The 30-second spots, backed by $500,000, pan the GOP health care bill, dubbed the American Health Care Act, as “Ryancare – a bad idea doubling down on disaster,” and asks voters to tell their representatives: “Don’t fall for fake repeal.”
The ads come after the House GOP leadership-aligned American Action Network has spent almost $10 million in dozens of House districts to get the bill across the finish line. Those spots targeted members of the House Freedom Caucus but also propped up House committee chairmen and House Republican leaders.
Even if GOP leaders are able to secure the necessary votes to pass the House, it may face trouble in the Senate, where the party is only able to lose two votes.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday he plans to bring up the health care bill next week, assuming the House passes it Thursday. But Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) said Tuesday they both remained opposed to the bill after House leaders made changes, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has also been strongly against the measure.
McConnell has said lawmakers will be allowed to offer amendments. On Tuesday, he said the chamber “will reach a conclusion on health care” next week one way or another, before it moves on to a Supreme Court confirmation vote for Judge Neil Gorsuch the following week.
Eli Yokley contributed.
Update: This story has been updated to reflect updates on timing in the Senate, the White House meeting with moderates and Meadows’ meeting with Vice President Pence.