U.S. Politics

GOP torn over what to do next

THE HILL

Days after the GOP’s healthcare effort crashed and burned, House Republicans are vowing to give it another shot until they “get it right.”

They seem, though, to be largely on their own.

President Trump is publicly signaling he wants to move on to tax reform and maybe team up with Democrats on something bipartisan, such as an infrastructure package.

The GOP-controlled Senate is focused on trying to get Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the Supreme Court and appears to have little interest in another healthcare war.

The ­ObamaCare “status quo” will “go forward, regretfully,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday.

The public statements show that GOP leaders are on different pages days after the historic blowup of their years-long effort to repeal and replace ­ObamaCare.

The failure means Republicans, nearly 70 days into Trump’s presidency, are still desperately searching for their first big legislative victory of 2017.

Veteran Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) has said the party just needs to show it can accomplish basic government tasks such as passing appropriations bills and keeping the government’s lights on — a topic of increasing urgency as Congress faces an April 28 deadline to avoid a federal shutdown.

Asked whether Republicans should try again on healthcare or move on to tax reform, Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.) enthusiastically shouted: “Infrastructure!”

In the immediate aftermath of the healthcare bill’s demise on Friday, Ryan said Republicans were moving on from their repeal efforts and that ­ObamaCare would remain the law of the land for the “foreseeable future.”

By Tuesday, however, rank-and-file Republicans signaled a desire to change course.

Inside a closed-door GOP conference meeting, speaker after speaker told leadership they weren’t ready to abandon the fight against President Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

“The consensus in the room is we need to get this done,” conservative Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) said as he left the meeting in the Capitol basement.

Ryan and his leadership team got the message — and made it their own. Republicans, the Speaker insisted to reporters, “are going to work together and listen together until we get this right.”

Democrats’ “celebration is premature because I think we’re closer today to repealing ­ObamaCare than we’ve ever been before,” chimed in House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who failed to round up the necessary votes last week.

But even within the 237-member House GOP conference, lawmakers were singing Tuesday from different songbooks.

“My first priority is pro-growth tax reform,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), who helped write the healthcare bill, told The Hill. “Like the Speaker, we are open to and welcome solutions on healthcare.”

“We are turning the page and moving on toward tax reform,” Brady told reporters on Monday.

Meanwhile, Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) said he hopes the GOP pivots next to Trump’s trillion-dollar infrastructure plan.

“In the ideal world, we would go right to infrastructure,” the Long Island Republican told The Hill. “On something like infrastructure, it gives the Speaker and the committee chairmen and the leadership generally the option to reach out and work with Democrats.”

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) delivered a markedly different message: Republicans spent too many years promising to repeal ­ObamaCare to abandon the effort now.

“There’s no reason we couldn’t figure out how to get the right balance and bring the bill back up fairly quickly,” the former Energy and Commerce Committee chairman said. “If it were a normal issue I’d say, ‘Let’s move on.’ But this is not a normal issue.”

White House press secretary Sean Spicer indicated Tuesday that administration officials have not discarded healthcare altogether, though they’re hardly making it the priority. Ryan huddled at the White House with Vice President Pence, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus on Monday, and he has been in close contact with Trump.

Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, has reportedly been in healthcare talks with leaders of the two warring GOP factions: the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus and centrist Tuesday Group.

“Have we had some discussions and listened to ideas? Yes. Are we actively planning an immediate strategy? Not at this time,” Spicer said.

House Republicans, though, say they’re not discouraged by Trump’s decision to move on.

“The direction now needs to come from House Republicans,” said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.). “We’ve gotten enough direction … from the White House on this issue.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have been energized by the Republicans’ failure. They’re simultaneously vowing to use the issue as a 2018 attack line while urging Trump and GOP leaders to cross the aisle in an effort to fix the problems dogging ­ObamaCare.

“We’re at the table, we’re ready to negotiate. We just need them to abandon the purely political attacks on ­ObamaCare they’ve obsessed over for seven years,” said Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), head of the House Democratic Caucus. “If Republicans don’t, make no mistake, they own healthcare now.”

Some Republicans also see the events of last week as an opportunity to forge the bipartisan agreement that has eluded Congress since ­ObamaCare was enacted seven years ago.

“The best thing that can happen from this crash-and-burn experience in the House is that out of the ashes can rise a phoenix of bipartisanship,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who spoke to Trump Tuesday morning about military spending and healthcare.

“I think the president has figured this out,” the senator added. “He believes that the best thing that can happen for this country are for the two parties to work together to fix healthcare, and I think he’s got the right approach.”

Peter Sullivan and Jordan Fabian contributed.

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