House Republicans in denial about Senate health care bill failure

House Republicans appeared to be in denial Tuesday about the implosion of the GOP’s Obamacare repeal effort in the Senate, insisting a bill could still move forward.

Dozens of Republicans emerged from a closed-door House GOP conference meeting Tuesday refusing to accept that their seven-year effort to gut President Barack Obama’s health care law appeared to have failed. The Senate, many of them predicted, would figure out a way to move the bill forward — even though Leader Mitch McConnell all but declared the effort to replace the law over.

“No, this is not dead,” said Rep. Richard Hudson, a North Carolina Republican who is close to GOP leadership. “Because all the people back home are suffering because they can’t afford health care. We’ve got to do something. We’ve got to.”

Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), a health care wonk who sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee, noted that the House, too, failed in its first attempt to craft an Obamacare replacement bill. But it came back — the House narrowly approved a version in May — and so could the Senate’s, he argued.

“We took a whiff. Remember? We whiffed the ball back in March,” he said. “And so they need to sit back down, get in a room like we did, have hours and hours of meeting time…We’ve got lots of time. There’s a long summer ahead.”

That optimism appears unfounded at this point. By mid-morning Tuesday, it was unclear whether the Senate could even vote to start work on the bill on the floor, let alone pass it. The effort unraveled Monday night when conservative Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) came out against the bill, joining moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and libertarian Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in keeping the legislation from the 51 votes needed to advance.

Privately, many House Republicans know the repeal bill may be dead and are venting. A few lightly jabbed at their colleagues across the aisle Tuesday. Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chairman of the 160-member Republican Study Committee, called the Senate’s failure to pass a bill “very disappointing.”

“There’s a lot of frustration right now among House members that the Senate has failed to be able to deliver,” he said. “I want to remain hopeful that we can fulfill the promises that we made to the American people, but yeah, there’s a sense of aggravation across the board.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan asked members Tuesday morning not to “trash” the Senate because a new path forward on health care could still surface. If the chamber puts together a new repeal bill in the next few weeks, the House would return from August recess to pass it, Ryan (R-Wis.) said.

Ryan is expected to meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) to discuss next steps later Tuesday.

“We’re hopeful that the Senate can take the pause it needs to take and move forward on this so we can get something done,” Ryan said at a press conference. “We are proud of the bill that we passed, but as you well know, the legislative process, for it to work, the House has to pass a bill — and we’ve done that. The Senate’s got to pass a bill for us to even move the process forward.”

House GOP insiders have long believed that the repeal effort’s death in the Senate is the worst-case scenario for the House Republican majority. Many moderates and centrists took the political risk of backing an unpopular bill in hopes that the proposal would be improved during the legislative process. Now it appears that vote may leave them vulnerable to attacks from Democrats.

That’s not to mention Republicans’ failure to follow through on a promise they’ve made for seven years. Not replacing Obamacare could demoralize the GOP base and keep people away from the polls in 2018.

In a short interview Tuesday, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) said he doesn’t think voters will punish House members for the Senate’s failure to pass a bill.

“Either we will get a final product and we will have something to show for it, or we won’t have a final product and they’ll have to attack our members for voting for something that didn’t happen, which is not as concerning to most voters,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a big deal either way.”

Rep. Mike Conaway agreed: “The good news about it is most folks are saying it’s the Senate that hasn’t done their work. We got it done on our side, and the pressure is going to continue to mount in the Senate.”

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