For the second time in less than 24 hours, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was forced to admit that he had failed to unite the Republican caucus around a seven-year campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. After the GOP’s attempt to replace the health care law collapsed on Monday, McConnell quickly pivoted to selling his members on a repeal without any immediate replacement in place. But by mid-afternoon Tuesday, it became evident that wouldn't fly either. McConnell, often touted as a masterful politician, could not convince his members to take up a repeal-only bill that they had passed with near-unanimity only two years before. McConnell has now failed three times in the last month to pass a bill to gut the Affordable Care Act.
It is "pretty clear there are not 50 Republicans at the moment for a replacement," McConnell admitted at a news conference following a GOP Senate lunch on Tuesday. McConnell’s plan for a repeal-only plan was thwarted only hours later by three women in his caucus, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who announced on Tuesday they would not vote for a procedural step to take up the repeal-only bill. With 52 seats in the Senate, McConnell can afford to lose only two votes to pass any legislation through the budget reconciliation process.
"I did not come to Washington to hurt people," Capito said in a statement. "I have serious concerns about how we continue to provide affordable care to those who have benefited from West Virginia's decision to expand Medicaid."
The collapse of Republicans’ seven-year pledge comes as activists on Capitol Hill and across the country have ramped up pressure campaigns in support of Obamacare.
Under the slogan “Kill the bill. Don’t kill us,” protesters from across the country have descended upon Washington this week to to express their disapproval of McConnell’s plan. Even with the Senate bill indefinitely on hold, activists -- some of whom are doctors, nurses and health care aides -- plan to take advantage of the delay and pressure Republicans.
Led by the national grassroots organization of disability rights activist group ADAPT, hundreds of protesters held sit-ins at the offices of GOP lawmakers in 21 states over the Fourth of July recess. Activists say they have no plans to cancel any of the sit-ins or rallies planned for this week when McConnell had originally hoped to ram through a repeal plan with little or no debate.
“If you take your eye off the ball for one minute, the moderates will cave, and the Republicans will slam a hard-right bill through before the public has a chance to mobilize,” Ben Wikler, the Washington director for MoveOn.org, which organized the People’s Filibuster, explained to protesters on Tuesday. “The only response is constant mobilization until they give up.”
On Wednesday, as many as 200 people from across the country who could be affected by changes to the health care law will come to Washington to occupy the offices of Republican senators.
As for President Donald Trump, he reiterated on Tuesday that he wants to just "let Obamacare fail." (He has suggested this course of action before, when he wasn't claiming that repealing and replacing the ACA would be quick and easy.) After hosting the Senate GOP caucus at the White House for a swanky dinner Monday night, Trump saw three of them leave and immediately announced their opposition to the repeal plan. "For seven years, I've been hearing 'repeal and replace' from Congress," Trump said. "And then when we finally get a chance to repeal and replace, they don't take advantage of it. So that's disappointing."
McConnell is still planning to hold a procedural vote on the repeal bill “in the very near future,” even though he knows he lacks the votes to move it forward. Asked how he’ll justify failing to repeal Obamacare to voters, the Republican leader told reporters on Tuesday, “Well, we have a new Supreme Court justice.”