By LINDSEY McPHERSON and ERIN MERSHON, CQ ROLL CALL
Conservative Republicans put their moderate colleagues in the health care hot seat Wednesday.
The House Freedom Caucus appears poised to put up anywhere from half to nearly all of the previously elusive votes needed to pass the GOP’s health care bill through the House.
The group of roughly three dozen hard-right lawmakers took an official position on Wednesday in support of the health care bill, conditional on the adoption of an amendment they’ve been seeking to allow states to opt out of certain insurance regulations they feel have driven up the cost of insurance premiums.
The pressure is now on moderates.
The amendment was developed primarily between the White House, House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina and New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur, co-chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group.
Despite MacArthur’s work on the proposal, which included adding language to ensure people with pre-existing conditions would not be denied coverage, many moderates who had previously opposed the measure appear unready to budge.
“My own sense is that many of our members who were opposed to the bill are probably still opposed,” Tuesday Group co-chairman Charlie Dent told reporters. Dent said he would not conduct a whip count for the group.
Leadership, however, met with some of the moderate holdouts late Wednesday night and apparently changed some minds.
“We got a few more to ‘yes’ tonight — yeah, a couple moderates, so that was good,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said after the two-hour, late-night, closed-door meeting.
Members headed into that meeting suggested a Friday vote was possible if the votes could be secured. Attendees and leadership were largely quiet after the meeting, signaling there may be more work to do. McCarthy said there were no plans yet for a vote Friday but he didn’t explicitly rule it out.
Dent, who was not invited to the meeting with leadership, said he remains unswayed by the latest changes, calling them “simply a matter of blame shifting and face saving.”
The Freedom Caucus took a lot of heat for the bill’s failure, the Pennsylvania Republican said, noting he doesn’t care if the blame shifts to him and other moderates who oppose the bill.
Dent expressed surprised to see MacArthur, who had already been a “yes” on the bill, spearhead an amendment that moved the bill further to the right. He said members the centrist caucus made clear to him, MacArthur and Rep. Elise Stefanik, the group’s third co-chair, that they did not want them to negotiate on behalf of the group.
MacArthur was lambasted by his colleagues during a Tuesday Group meeting Wednesday where he received little to no support for the amendment, according to an aide with knowledge of the meeting.
Group member Rep. Tom Reed confirmed some of that sentiment.
“The group was not empowering one individual to act on behalf of everyone,” the New York Republican said. “There’s a concern when you’re a chair of a group that you have to be very careful not to bind the entire group, especially when the group doesn’t act that way.”
MacArthur expressed optimism that many moderates would support the latest changes, but declined to say whether any had actually shifted positions.
“I’m not on the whip team,” he said.
Still, most moderates had little public criticism or support to offer. Many moderate proponents and opponents of the bill said they are still reviewing the latest changes, and have yet to decide how they would vote.
The shift toward passage appears to have come largely from the Freedom Caucus’ newfound support. The group has frequently taken blamed for the conference’s failure to pass the health care bill, with jabs coming via tweets from President Donald Trump, public comments from their colleagues and outside establishment groups.
Several caucus members, including Meadows, confirmed Wednesday they reached the 80 percent threshold needed to adopt an official position but otherwise declined to characterize the number of new “yes” and remaining “no” votes among the conservatives.
“I have a hard enough time working with just members on the conservative side of our conference,” Meadows said. “So to suggest that I can worry about what motivates or doesn’t motivate some of the more moderate members is well beyond my bandwidth.”
At least seven members of the Freedom Caucus had committed to voting “yes” before the recent changes. One conservative member, speaking anonymously to discuss the private talks on the recent changes, said the net gain of conservative votes in favor of the bill will likely be anywhere from 23 to 30 members.
Among the Freedom Caucus members who have publicly stated they have moved from a “no” to a “yes” are Meadows, Raul Labrador of Idaho, Dave Brat of Virginia, Andy Harris of Maryland, Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee, Mark Sanford of South Carolina, Mo Brooks of Alabama and Warren Davidson of Ohio.
The votes have not been secured yet, a senior Republican aide said, suggesting that newfound support from conservatives would not be enough to get the bill over the finish line and that some moderate shifts could be needed.
Leadership views the progress made from the amendment as an encouraging sign, but the vote count remains fluid, the aide said.
House Republican Whip Steve Scalise told members during a GOP conference meeting that he was counting on anyone who voted “yes” to hold that position, but said anyone whose views have changed should meet with him, New York Rep. Chris Collins said.
Collins, a Tuesday Group member who has been supportive of the bill and remains so, said “this puts pressure on every member who’s a ‘no.’” He said he is “guardedly optimistic” about a vote on this measure as soon as next week.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan, speaking at an event hosted by Baker Hostetler, reiterated that the House will vote on the health care bill when they have the votes to pass it, but suggested a sense of urgency.
“We’re very aggressive on our time table,” he said. “We really believe this law is collapsing.”