President Donald Trump said Wednesday the Republicans’ last-resort “Obamacare” repeal effort remains two or three votes short, forecasting days of furious lobbying ahead with a crucial deadline looming next week.
The legislation by Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina would repeal major pillars of former President Barack Obama’s health law, replacing them with block grants to states to design their own health care programs. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to round up 50 votes to pass the legislation before Sept. 30, when special rules preventing a Democratic filibuster will expire.
“We think this has a very good chance, Obamacare is only getting worse,” Trump told reporters covering the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York, as he prepared to meet Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. “At some point the Senate is going to be forced to make a deal.”
By his reckoning, “we’re at 47 or 48 already, senators, and a lot of others are looking at it very positively.”
Trump’s comments came several hours after McConnell’s office announced that the majority leader’s “intention” is to bring the legislation to the Senate floor next week, a question McConnell was noncommittal on a day earlier. After the embarrassing defeat of an earlier repeal bill in July, some Republicans believe McConnell would bring a bill to the floor only with the votes in hand.
In a Senate split 52-48 between Republicans and Democrats, McConnell has little room for error. GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has already announced his opposition, saying the bill doesn’t do enough to repeal “Obamacare,” while moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is also seen as a likely “no” vote.
With Democrats unanimously opposed, McConnell cannot afford to lose even one more Republican senator. The focus is on Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, both of whom opposed earlier versions of repeal legislation.
One leading Republican, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, voiced pessimism Wednesday in a phone interview with home-state reporters, saying glumly: “I think we’re one or two votes short and I don’t see those other votes coming and I hope I’m wrong.”
This time is different for McCain because his closest friend in the Senate, Graham, is a co-author of the bill. Graham was overheard on his cellphone at Reagan National Airport on Wednesday, apparently talking to McCain and pleading with him to support the bill “with all its…