WASHINGTON — Facing assured defeat, Republican leaders decided Tuesday not to even hold a vote on the GOP’s latest attempt to repeal the Obama health care law, surrendering on their last-gasp effort to deliver on the party’s banner campaign promise.
Leaving a lunch of Republican senators who’d gathered to discuss their next steps on the issue, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other leaders decided that “the votes are not there, not to have the vote.”
Another lawmaker leaving the gathering, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., shook his head and said, “No,” when asked if a roll call would occur.
The decision marked the latest defeat on the issue for President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. In July, the Republican-controlled Senate rejected three similar GOP measures, a failure that infuriated conservatives and prompted Trump to spend much of his summer tweeting criticism at McConnell for falling short.
One of the measure’s sponsors, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the GOP fight to erase President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul would continue.
“We’re going to get there,” he said. “We’re going to fulfill our promise.”
Rejection became all but inevitable on Monday after Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins announced she opposed the legislation. She joined Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Texas’ Ted Cruz who’d already said they opposed the measure. Cruz aides said he was seeking changes that would let him vote yes.
Because of their narrow majority and unified Democratic opposition, Republicans can lose just two GOP votes and still push the legislation through the Senate. A vote or a decision by McConnell, R-Ky., to forego a roll call was needed this week because procedural protections against a bill-killing filibuster by Democrats expire Sunday.
In choosing whether to hold the roll call, McConnell had to pick between some Republicans arguing that lawmakers can’t be seen as abandoning a pledge that Trump and countless GOP have run on, and others challenging the value of shining a fresh spotlight on their inability to pass the bill.
The abandoned bill would transform much of “Obamacare’s” spending into grants that states could spend on health programs with few constraints.