Pence Didn't Push on Health Care Vote

Veep did not seek to force Senate hand on latest bill

Vice President Mike Pence joined Senate Republicans at their weekly lunch, but did not opt to force the issue of taking a vote on the health care bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Vice President Mike Pence opted not to make a last-ditch pitch to Republican senators Tuesday to vote for the GOP’s latest health care bill.

Instead, Republican senators leaving their weekly lunch at the Capitol said Pence focused on how Congress could provide disaster aid to U.S. territories devastated by a string of recent hurricanes, pivoting from one of the president’s central campaign promises. Shortly after the lunch, GOP leaders said they were shelving a vote.

Lawmakers said Pence did praise Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana for their work on the latest attempt to redo the U.S. health insurance system.

It did not appear that Pence tried to sway the three Republican senators — John McCain of Arizona, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine — whose announced “no” votes spelled doom for the latest effort.

“Once people have indicated their positions. you move on and you try to resolve the concerns they’ve got,” Sen. Mike Rounds said of Pence opting not to make a final plea on the health care bill.

Most Republican senators still showered Pence with praise, including Graham, one of the bill’s authors.

The South Carolina Republican said despite his measure falling short, he believed Pence should continue to lead talks to come up with another measure that would get the support of the majority.

“If we sell this, which I believe we will, Mike Pence should get a lion’s share of the credit,” Graham said.

Before heading into lunch, Collins said she wanted to hear Pence talk about supporting a bipartisan attempt by Tennessee GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander and Washington Democrat Patty Murray to stabilize the individual insurance markets.

That effort was dealt a blow earlier this month after Alexander said he was unable to broker an agreement on the measure.

“I hope that we could proceed with that bill and then go on to another set of hearings that would focus on other problem,” Collins said.

Rounds said much of the meeting was focused not on health care but on how to provide as much disaster aid as possible to Puerto Rico, which has been devastated by back-to-back hurricanes.

Rounds said Pence also committed to continuing to negotiate on future attempts to change the health care law but that it was clear there were not enough votes to do so now.

“[The] most recent discussions we’ve had have not been fruitful in terms of finding something that most members of our conference would find acceptable,” Rounds said.

Sen. Ted Cruz echoed the sentiment that the Senate should continue moving forward to find the 50 votes it needs to pass a health care measure.

“We don’t have them right now,” the Texas Republican said. “But we should keep working.”

Sen. John N. Kennedy avoided saying precisely how Pence addressed the Graham-Cassidy bill except to say the vice president praised the work of the lawmakers.

“We talked a lot about Puerto Rico,” the Louisiana Republican said. “Lindsey and Bill did the best they could, alright, but it’s dead — it's dead as a door nail.”

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