A harsh reality is setting in among Senate Republicans: they’re extremely unlikely to repeal Obamacare in the coming days.
Republicans felt somewhat buoyed by Wednesday’s White House meeting and a late-night senators-only gathering, which left them feeling like they’re making progress and that nearly every GOP senator is trying to get to yes.
But the math is increasingly working against them, with four Republican senators having announced opposition to starting debate — though the bill could further change — and more unannounced but likely nos. GOP leaders can only lose two Republicans and move forward.
Sen. John McCain’s diagnosis of a brain tumor also has the GOP one vote down, or at least leaves a huge question mark whether the beloved Arizona Republican would be able to make the trip back to Washington.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said the White House lunch with President Donald Trump drove home the importance of living up to the GOP’s seven-year campaign pledge on Obamacare repeal.
“The math has always been difficult but there’s a feeling that we have a responsibility to get a result,” Alexander said. “And we’ve worked for a long time to get one and we’re still trying.”
Privately, however, several senators say they don’t see the configurations of a bill that gets them to 50 votes.
Some Republicans are beginning to think that a failed vote — and the critical headlines and conservative blowback that would follow — may drive some senators back to the negotiating table.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is still expected to hold a vote to try to begin debate on the repeal effort, likely on Tuesday.
"That’s my expectation. We can always come back if it’s not successful by one vote, we can come back when he is available,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the majority whip. "There is some benefit to moving forward and seeing where we are next week."
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), one of the four announced “no” votes, said Thursday he has not changed my opinion” on the motion to proceed.
“Everybody analyzes what they’re interested in for a yes vote,” Moran said. “That was a significant part of the discussion last night.”
Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said he hasn’t decided how to vote on starting debate.
"I’m going to wait and see" on the motion to proceed, Heller said. "I have no idea what that motion is going to be part of. I don’t know if it’s going to be part of the [2015 repeal bill] or if it’s going to be a part of the House vote but we’re going to find that out."