GOP critic of health care bill says Trump will win despite delay

·Senior National Affairs Reporter

WASHINGTON — Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, went out of his way to praise President Trump’s negotiating skills when announcing to reporters Thursday that there were still “30 to 40” House members whom the White House had failed to woo in time for the planned health care vote that evening.

“We would not be where we are today even considering this if it were not for President Trump’s personal involvement,” Meadows said, minutes after House leaders announced they were scrapping their much-touted plan to vote Thursday on the repeal-and-replace measure. “As we look at President Trump’s personal involvement and negotiating skills — he’s moved this a very long way.”

Meadows said Trump would get a win, but it might just take longer than the president wanted.

“Whether the vote is tonight, tomorrow or five days from here, the president will get a victory because I believe we all want to negotiate in good faith and deliver on our promise [to repeal Obamacare],” Meadows said.

Asked if the postponed vote could be interpreted as a loss for Trump, Meadows responded “absolutely not.”

The fine line members of Congress walk in opposing Trump’s first legislative initiative was demonstrated by the care with which Meadows, one of the bill’s chief critics, spoke of the president.

Trump tweeted Thursday to his supporters to call their members of Congress and urge them vote for the bill, and he joked in a meeting with the conservative holdouts earlier this week that he would “go after” them if they didn’t fall in line. The president worked the phones Thursday night and met with House conservatives and moderates Thursday to try to convince them to get on board. Trump, who has embraced the plan, was still indicating that the vote would take place as planned even as leaders were scrambling to delay it Thursday afternoon.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

It’s conceivable that Trump could begin marshaling his ardent supporters against members who continue to frustrate him, though he hasn’t so far.

A White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, told Yahoo News that Trump could be calling members into the night Thursday to sway them in time for a Friday vote, as well. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the House majority leader, said on CNN that the debate on the bill would start Friday morning.

Opponents of the bill have questioned why House leadership was determined to vote on the bill Thursday while negotiations were still taking place. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., said on MSNBC that he didn’t like that the leadership wanted to vote Thursday because it was the seventh anniversary of when the Affordable Care Act was signed.

“That’s more symbolism to me over substance,” Dent said.

When asked why the leadership wanted to vote on the bill so quickly, Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., a member of the Freedom Caucus, said, “You’re asking the wrong person that question.”

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi mocked Trump for scheduling a vote before having his caucus ready for a vote, calling him a “rookie.”

Meadows said he’s “hopeful” that progress will be made in negotiations with the White House, but that the White House must prove premiums will actually go down for people under the bill.

“We believe that some of the texts and some of the things we were being asked to consider at this point are not in enough of a form to make a good informed decision on,” Meadows said.

But it’s unclear if the House leadership can compromise further with the Freedom Caucus without alienating Republican moderates.

“We are trying to get another 30 or 40 votes,” Meadows said.

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