White House, Republicans trying to revive Obamacare repeal in new talks

BENJAMIN SIEGEL and ADAM KELSEY

Republicans on Capitol Hill are in active discussions with the White House to resuscitate the Obamacare repeal effort after being forced to pull their first attempt at a bill -- the American Health Care Act -- from the House floor nearly two weeks ago over a lack of support.

After Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, played golf last weekend with President Donald Trump and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney -- with the group spending hours discussing health care, according to Paul -- several House Republicans met with top administration officials at the White House Monday to discuss potential changes to the health care bill.

The meeting came as Paul met with members of the House Freedom Caucus, whose members largely refused to back the initial bill nearly two weeks ago.

"The sense I got from the House Freedom Caucus is that they're still open to discussion, they still want to have good communications with everyone on it, and they're still trying to find a middle ground," he said.

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Those at the White House included leaders of the centrist Tuesday Group and Rep. Greg Walden, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which helped draft the health care bill. Vice President Mike Pence, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, domestic policy adviser Andrew Bremberg and Mulvaney were present for the meeting, according to members who were there.

Rep. Chris Collins, R-New York, who attended the White House meeting, told reporters that the White House discussed a number of potential tweaks to the bill designed to attract more support within the GOP conference. Paul added that the administration is open to small changes to the AHCA rather than starting over with a new bill.

"Where they are -- still trying to make it work with what they have and getting people to accept what they have with varied, small tweaks to the existing bill," he said. "Their opinion right now is to keep working with what they have. And we'll see."

One change the administration is considering is allowing state governors to opt out of some Affordable Care Act regulations, according to Republicans who have discussed the changes with the White House.

Paul noted that "most conservatives are for that."

The Kentucky Republican said that he's working to leave some Obamacare subsidies in place, however, rather than voting on the tax credit system pitched by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin.

Collins said the White House made it clear that President Trump would like to see Congress take action before members leave for the holiday recess.

On Monday evening, Pence met with members of the conservative Freedom Caucus in an effort to gauge support for any potential changes. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the Freedom Caucus's chairman said no deal has been reached but that he is encouraged by the outlines of the proposal presented to them.

"There is no deal in principle, there is a solid idea that was offered that as we look at we'll evaluate," said Meadows. "We're certainly encouraged by the progress we're making."

Meadows said there is no legislative text yet, but that the administration has presented a proposal that would allow states to opt out of some provisions like essential health benefits -- the specific categories of coverage required by the ACA, like prescription drug coverage, maternity care and hospital visits -- and community ratings, which prevent insurers from varying premiums in certain regions.

The Freedom Caucus chairman added that the group also discussed another amendment on risk-sharing pools for the states that conservatives argue would help high-risk consumers cover costs. He also said it would be unlikely that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office would be able to asses the changes before a vote on the House floor.

This new flurry of activity follows a week of quiet negotiations on health care among rank-and-file members of the House GOP conference.

ABC News' Katherine Faulders contributed to this report.