GOP health care bill battle continues behind the scenes

Republicans say they’re not giving up on their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare despite their failure in the House last week to secure enough votes for legislation that would have done just that.

On Tuesday, the House GOP conference met for the first time since their healthcare debacle exploded on Thursday and Friday.

“The way I would describe the meeting we just had with our members is we are going to work together and listen together until we get this right. It is just too important,” Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., told reporters after their closed-door meeting. 

“Obamacare is a collapsing law. Obamacare is doing too much damage to families. And so, we’re going to get this right. And in the meantime, we’re going to do all of our other work that we came here to do.”

For two consecutive days, House Republican leaders and the White House lobbied members of their own party to back the American Health Care Act (AHCA), but ultimately they fell short of the votes needed to get it through the lower chamber. Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus remained united against the measure and a number of moderates opposed it, too. The bill’s opponents argued that it didn’t deliver a full repeal of Obamacare, it wouldn’t have lowered premiums, millions more people would be uninsured and it wouldn’t have passed the Senate.

President Trump has said he wants congressional Republicans to move on to overhaul the U.S. tax code and pursue a reform package. Conservatives aren’t giving up on health care yet, though.

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., a Freedom Caucus member, has filed a one-line piece of legislation to repeal Obamacare. He’s reportedly lobbying his colleagues to sign a discharge petition to try and force a floor vote on the bill.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked Tuesday whether the White House is involved in any renegotiations of the health care bill.

“Have we had some discussions and listened to ideas? Yes. Are we actively planning an immediate strategy? Not at this time,” Spicer said. “So there has been a discussion, and I believe there will be several more.”

In an interview on “CBS This Morning” Tuesday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., suggested that Republicans and Democrats should try and reach a compromise on health care together if they want to be successful.

“When the Democrats rammed through Obamacare, they did it on a strict partisan basis. We did not include the Democrats in negotiations on Obamacare. The issue is not going away,” the Arizona Republican said.

“We’ve got to go back and address this issue on a bipartisan basis and we can’t wait until people are without health care,” McCain added. “We’ve got to have some bipartisanship around here, otherwise we’re not going to get much done.”

There are signs Mr. Trump may not be quite ready to move on, either. He suggested in a tweet Monday that Democrats would eventually have to negotiate with Republicans.

And at a dinner Tuesday he hosted for all the senators and their spouses, Mr. Trump said optimistically, “I know we are all going to make a deal on health care,” adding that he had no doubt it would happen “quickly.”

Riding the momentum against the repeal effort, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sent a letter to the House Democratic Caucus Tuesday to solicit suggestions for how to improve Obamacare.

“We can then discuss these suggestions in our Caucus and be prepared at the earliest possible time to go forward. It would be my hope to create a list of priorities to engage with our colleagues, with social media and advocacy groups, and perhaps even with the President,” she said.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that Democrats remain willing to work with Republicans to improve Obamacare as soon as Republicans drop their efforts to repeal the bill.

“We’re ready and able to work with the president to expand coverage and lower the cost of health care. We have a lot of ideas. You’ll be hearing from us in the next few weeks,” Schumer said.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Tuesday seemed to downplay the odds of the passage of a major health care bill this year.

“I think where we are on Obamacare, regretfully, at the moment is where the Democrats wanted us to be, which is with the status quo,” he said.

“They have an opportunity now to have the status quo go forward, regretfully. I want to thank the president and the speaker. They went all out to try to pass a repeal and replacement. I’m sorry that didn’t work, but our Democratic friends now have the law that they wrote in place and we’ll see how that works out.”

CBS News’ John Bat contributed to this report.

  • Rebecca Shabad

    Rebecca Shabad is a video reporter for CBS News Digital.