Politics

How The GOP’s Health Care Law Went Down

A play-by-play of one of the most momentous days in Trump’s presidency

Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan, R-Wisc., approaches the podium to make a statement and take questions from reporters after he pulled the Republican bill to partially repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act on Friday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

It was a nail-biter of a day with a photo finish.

The Republican Party’s seven-year effort to repeal the 2010 health care law ended with a thud Friday when the GOP decided not to even subject its do-or-die alternative to a vote.

The announcement, in the last minutes before an afternoon vote was expected, came after two days of frenzied lobbying and negotiations as increasing numbers of GOP House members defected.

Signs of trouble started to emerge Thursday. House leaders had planned to pass their alternative health care plan on the anniversary of the passage of President Obama’s signature legislation. Instead, they negotiated deep into the night and emerged with a promise of a Friday vote.

President Donald Trump threw all his weight behind the effort, which would have followed through on one of his biggest campaign promises. But the ultimatum he issued — that the GOP pass a bill or he would back away from the fight — failed to move the moderate and conservative factions he needed to make a deal in the unruly House of Representatives.

At the end, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan rushed to the White House to tell Trump he did not have enough votes to pass the bill. Trump conceded, and the bill was pulled.

Here’s how it all went down Friday:

8:48 a.m.: Trump tries a little strong-arming on Twitter, singling out the Freedom Caucus: “The irony is that the Freedom Caucus, which is very pro-life and against Planned Parenthood, allows P.P. to continue if they stop this plan!”

10:16 a.m.: Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas suggests there could still be substantial opposition to the bill from the Freedom Caucus, with maybe 20 “no” votes in the conservative bloc.

10:40 a.m.: Republican Deputy Whip Tom Cole tells reporters,  “As a general rule of thumb, I think if we win, it gets easier, if we lose, it gets harder."

10:47 a.m.: Asked for a prediction on the bill at a White House event signing an order on the Keystone XL, Trump, smiling, responds, “We’ll see,” before dismissing reporters.

11:04 a.m.: The House passed the procedural bill that allows for immediate consideration of the health care bill, giving it special priority over other business before the House.

In a bad sign for the bill’s chance of passage, six Republicans vote against the rule.

UNITED STATES - MARCH 24: Students on a school tour of the Capitol try to catch a glimpse of members of Congress passing through Statuary Hall during the House vote on a rule to allow a vote to proceed on the American Health Care Act of 2017 in the Capitol on Friday, March 24, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Students on a school tour of the Capitol try to catch a glimpse of members of Congress passing through Statuary Hall during a procedural vote to allow the American Health Care Act of 2017 to proceed to the floor. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

11:28 a.m.: After speaking with Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows on the floor, Tom MacArthur, co-chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group, says the converstation was productive. He said he remains a "yes" vote. Meadows says he’s still inclined to vote "no," but his mind isn’t made up.

"We are both working to get to the right place," he says.

11: 32 a.m.: Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., who’s undeclared on the measure, suggests the Freedom Caucus is looking at another change to bring its members on board. He declines to give specifics or even to explain how the change might be made.

“I can’t characterize it,” he says. “Of course it has impact, but it doesn’t always have to be a change to the bill.”

11:52 a.m.: Meadows calls negotiations on the bill “fragile.” He says he’s still voting “no” and that he’s had very little sleep.

12:04 p.m.: Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., speaking at a Center for American Progress Action Fund event, says, "All of us, from the White House down, could’ve done a better job in trying to explain the benefits of the Affordable Care Act."

12:32 p.m.: Ryan heads to the White House to brief the president on where things stand.

He tells Trump that he doesn’t have the votes to pass the bill and discusses whether to pull it.

1:19 p.m.: White House press secretary Sean Spicer says the House will at 3:30 p.m, earlier than House leadership had said.

The White House says more than 120 GOP members have had meetings or calls with the president in recent days on the bill, adding his boss has "left everything on the field" in trying to broker some kind of deal.

He puts responsibility for the blll’s fate squarely on the shoulders of House members, but stopped short of blaming Ryan who he says did “everything he can.”

“It’s going to be up to the members of the House to decide whether they want to follow through on the promise,” he says. He later adds, “You can’t force a vote. We’ve given them every single reason to fulfill every promise they’ve made.”

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) departs from the White House after meeting with President Donald Trump, on March 24, 2017 in Washington, DC. Ryan met with Trump regarding issues related to repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Ryan departs from the White House after his meeting with President Donald Trump on Friday. Ryan told the president that he didn’t have the votes to pass the Republicans’ health care plan. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

1:46 p.m.: Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price stop by the Capitol Hill club, a popular gathering spot for Republican House members — and a prime location to buttonhole members whose votes are still in play. They don’t answer questions about whether the bill has enough votes to pass.

2:07 p.m.: Ryan returns to the avoiding the the center entrance that is closest to his office and crowds of reporters, photographers and TV crews staked out there.

2:23 p.m.: As the minutes tick down toward the vote, many Republican members are still reticent about what side they’ll take — and whether there will be a vote at all. Democrats appear ready to hold the GOP to their planned schedule.

3:19 p.m.: Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker, R-N.C., says he’s not overly optimistic that the bill will pass the House.

“We don’t know until we vote, and as far as we know we’re moving forward with that,” he says, adding that he hadn’t heard from leadership since Ryan went to the White House. 

“You can't pretend that this is a win for us. I’m sure our friends on the left, this is a big moment for them, he says. “Probably that champagne that wasn’t popped back in November may be utilized this evening, we’ll see.” 

3:32 p.m.: Democrats chant, “Vote! Vote! Vote!” as the House went goes into recess and the GOP conference convenes for a meeting in a private room in the House.

3:34 p.m.: The bill is pulled. A leadership source says Ryan spoke to the president 30 minutes before and Trump asked the speaker to pull the bill.

3:50 p.m.: Cheers from Democrats can be heard outside the House chamber. With the House Democratic cloakroom door ajar, cheers can be heard from the packed antechamber. Sporadic cheers continue from the room as lawmakers appear to be glued to the television.

UNITED STATES - MARCH 24: Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, leaves a meeting of the House Republican Conference where Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., announced the vote for American Health Care Act had been canceled, March 24, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, is surrounded by reporters as he leaves a meeting of the House Republican Conference, where Ryan told his caucus the vote on the American Health Care Act had been canceled. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

4:01 p.m.: With lawmakers from both sides declaring the bill dead, some Republicans say they don’t know will happen next.

Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla, says he’s “disappointed” the bill was pulled.

“I wanted to see us go out there and have the fight,” he says. “We’ll be back to work on Monday. Get back at it,” he says. 

“Wow, oh, wow,” says Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist, a former Republican. A staffer mutters, “Aren’t you glad you switched parties?”

Asked whether the House will really give up its efforts to repeal the health care law, Rep. Phil Roe, author of one of the earliest GOP replacement plans, says yes.

“I think it’s over. The president is moving on.”

4:11 p.m.: Kentucky Republican Andy Barr says the broader effort to repeal is “not dead” because the people who campaigned on it are “going to be persistent.” But he says they have so much to do that they have to move on. And he admits this make Republicans’ efforts on tax reform harder.

UNITED STATES - MARCH 24: Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky., leaves a meeting of the House Republican Conference where Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., announced the vote for American Health Care Act had been canceled, March 24, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky.,talks to reporters after leaving the GOP conference meeting. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

4:14 p.m: In his first public comments since the was scuttled, Ryan says the failed effort showed that the party is undergoing, “growing pains.”

He also acknowledges that the defeat of the GOP bill was, “a setback,” and says that the law known as Obamacare would remain in place for now. 

Ryan says the GOP will move on with the rest of its agenda because it has “big, ambitious plans.”

“Yes, this does make tax reform more difficult,” he says. “But it does not in any way make it impossible.”

4:28 p.m.: Democrats respond with a series of gleeful — and sometimes gloating — statements.

“Ultimately, the TrumpCare bill failed because of two traits that have plagued the Trump presidency since he took office: incompetence and broken promises,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer writes in a statement. “In my life, I have never seen an administration as incompetent as the one occupying the White House today... So much for “‘The Art of the Deal.’”

Schumer’s counterpart in the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, is only slightly more restrained.

“It’s pretty exciting for us. Yesterday our anniversary. Today a victory for the Affordable Care Act, more importantly for the American people.”

She responds to Trump’s comments that she and Schumer now own Obamacare with a laugh.

“We proudly do,” Pelosi said. “Did he blame us for the defeat?”

UNITED STATES - MARCH 24: Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price leave their meeting with members of the House Freedom Caucus at the Capitol Hill Club before the final vote on the American Health Care Act of 2017 on Friday, March 24, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price leave their meeting with members of the House Freedom Caucus at the Capitol Hill Club before the vote was cancelled. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

4:30 p.m.: Florida freshman Matt Gaetz says his party needs to prove it can govern. Asked if there’s anything they could do to prove that, he says, “I don’t think we could pass a Mother’s Day resolution right now.”

4:57 p.m.: Trump appears to leave the door open to the possibility that he would revisit health care with “a better bill.”

In his first remarks since Ryan canceled the vote, Trump attempts to distance himself from the scrapped legislation, saying he had disliked many things in the measure.

Trump blamed Democrats for the health bill’s failure, saying no member of the opposition party would cross the aisle despite problems with the 2010 health law.

But he invites them to come to the table and come up with a way to improve the law.

“What would be good, with no Democratic support [of the bill] is if they got with us and got a bipartisan bill done,” Trump says. “I’d be totally open to that.”

— Lindsey McPherson, Rema Rahman, Erin Mershon, Simone Pathe, Kellie Mejdrich, Niels Lesniewski, Rebecca Adams, John Bennett, Amelia Frappolli, Bridget Bowman, Alex Clearfield, Jason Dick and Joseph P. Williams contributed to this report.

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