WASHINGTON (CN) – With fractures showing in Republican support for the Senate’s health care package, party leadership on Tuesday delayed a vote on the legislation until after next week’s July 4 recess.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday that the party will “continue discussions” on the bill and pointedly disputed the idea that the delayed vote means the end of Republican attempts to pass the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
“Legislation of this complexity almost always takes longer than anybody else would hope, but we’re going to press on,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday. “We think the status quo is unsustainable for all the obvious reasons we’ve discussed over and over and over again and we’re optimistic we’re going to get results better than the status quo.”
The first vote on the bill, a motion to bring the bill to the floor for debate, was never officially scheduled, but it was anticipated it would happen on Wednesday at the latest with an eye on passing the bill on Thursday before senators leave town where they are sure to face organized Democratic opposition to the bill.
Using a process known as reconciliation to pass the bill, Republicans need just 50 votes to pass their repeal. That means they could only afford two defections if Democrats stay united in opposition as is expected.
By the time McConnell delayed the vote, the number of Republicans publically opposing the bill had grown to five, with more coming out against the bill after McConnell said they would not be voting on it this week.
Already enjoying just tentative support in the Republican ranks as the week opened, a report from the Congressional Budget Office released Monday afternoon threw more doubt on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s ability to pass the health care repeal by the deadline party leadership had established even before the bill became public.
The fractures in Republican support for the bill have come from both sides of the GOP caucus, with moderate senators concerned about its cuts to Medicaid and conservative members saying it does not go far enough in repealing the Affordable Care Act.
Conservative Sens. Rand Paul, Ron Johnson and Mike Lee have said they will oppose the procedural vote to bring the health care bill to the floor as it is written, continuing opposition to the bill that they announced just hours after it was publically released.
Joining them in publically opposing the motion to bring the bill to the floor are Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who announced his opposition to the bill on Friday, and Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who said on Twitter she opposed the bill after the CBO report that found 22 million fewer people would have insurance by 2026 if the bill passed.
President Donald Trump invited Senate Republicans to the White House to discuss the legislation on Tuesday afternoon, sand McConnell said the president would be a larger part of bringing the bill to passage than he has been thus far in the process.
“We always anticipated that the president would be very important in getting us to a conclusion,” McConnell told reporters.
At the meeting at the White House, Trump sat between Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, neither of whom has supported the bill. Trump singled out Murkowski in his statements, saying there have been large increases in health care costs in her state, according to a pool report.
“So we’re going to talk and we’re going to see what we can do,” Trump said at the meeting. “We’re getting very close. But for the country, we have to have health care.”
In the hours leading up to the delayed vote, Democrats stepped up pressure on Republicans to back off their plans, standing on the steps of the Capitol holding pictures of constituents who wrote them with concerns about how the bill would impact their health care.
“This is who we’re fighting for,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said at the press conference. “Not some obscure government funding program, not some ideological desire to cut the safety net. Not for very wealthy people.”
“We are here, we are so passionate about this because of the pictures you see, plain and simple,” Schumer continued.
Later in the day, Schumer told reporters he was cautiously optimistic after McConnell announced the delayed vote, though he predicted the Republican leader would use the delay to carefully target the members of his party who publically broke from the bill in recent days and bring them on board.
“We know the fight is not over, that is for sure,” Schumer told reporters. “We’re not resting on any laurels, nor do we feel any sense yet of accomplishment other than we are making progress because the American people are listening to our arguments.”
Earlier in the day Govs. John Hickenlooper and John Kasich, both of whom have been highly critical of the Republican measure, urged the lawmakers to come together to fix the health care system rather than writing one-sided legislation.
“I would be proud to have some Republican and Democratic governors work with Democratic and Republican senators,” Hickenlooper said at the press conference at the National Press Club on Tuesday morning.
Kasich, who ran against President Donald Trump in the Republican primaries, criticized his party’s bill as not being generous enough, calling it “unacceptable.”
“What’s happened to Republicans is for seven years they’ve run around bashing Obamacare and they’re the dog that caught the car,” Kasich said. “Now they don’t know what to do. They’ve got 22, 23 million Americans who lose health insurance and they think that’s great? They think that’s good public policy? What, are you kidding me?”
Kasich, who took advantage of the Medicaid expansion included in the Affordable Care Act, suggested the Senate version of the bill could be fixed, but that doing so would likely require Democratic input. Despite strict partisanship in Washington, Kasich said he is believes such a meeting could occur.
“I really am optimistic that cooler heads will prevail,” Kasich said.