WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged Monday night that he lacked the votes to pass the Senate health care bill after two more Republican senators came out against it, leaving the party short of a majority.
Instead, he said the Senate would vote on a full repeal of Obamacare, with two years before the repeal goes into effect to allow time to create a new system. The new plan may appear to fulfill a seven-year GOP promise, but it faces extremely difficult odds after many moderate Republican senators have already come out against repeal without an immediate replacement.
Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Mike Lee of Utah set the chain of events in motion Monday night when they announced on Twitter that they both would oppose the current bill, which was released just last week.
Moran and Lee followed two other Republican senators who had already said they wouldn't support the bill: Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine.
"After conferring with trusted experts regarding the latest version of the Consumer Freedom Amendment, I have decided I cannot support the current version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act," Lee said in a statement. "In addition to not repealing all of the Obamacare taxes, it doesn't go far enough in lowering premiums for middle class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations."
Moran issued this statement: "We should not put our stamp of approval on bad policy. Furthermore, if we leave the federal government in control of everyday healthcare decisions, it is more likely that our healthcare system will devolve into a single-payer system, which would require a massive federal spending increase. We must now start fresh with an open legislative process to develop innovative solutions that provide greater personal choice, protections for pre-existing conditions, increased access and lower overall costs for Kansans."
The senators released their statements just as eight other lawmakers, including most members of leadership, left the White House, where they ate dinner with the president. President Donald Trump has been largely disengaged from the process in the Senate, and his dinner guests were members already supportive of the measure.
The president responded to the latest development just after 10:15 p.m. ET:
McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, is seeking to give Trump what he wants. McConnell, who had worked to craft the bill that couldn't muster enough support, said he would seek a vote on a full repeal — the same version that passed both the House and the Senate in 2015 — "in the coming days."
"Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful," McConnell said in a statement.
While straight repeal passed the Senate in 2015, there was no possibility that it would go into effect because then-President Barack Obama vetoed the legislation.
Just last week, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told reporters that straight repeal wouldn't get the support of 50 Republicans.
McConnell had expected to hold a vote on the bill this week but was forced to delay it after Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., underwent surgery to remove a blot clot above his left eye over the weekend. McCain is unable to return to Washington while he recovers, and his vote would have been crucial before the latest defections.
The Better Care Reconciliation Act has hit numerous roadblocks since it was unveiled more than a month ago. The first version fell short of the support needed to pass when at least 10 Republican senators came out against it, forcing McConnell back to the drawing board to try to win the support of moderate and conservative Republicans who opposed the measure for different reasons.
The second iteration, released last week, seemed to have more support. Only Paul and Collins opposed it at the outset, and others with concerns seemed open to ongoing discussions about the bill.
But the coalition of 50 began to crack Monday when Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told reporters that he was concerned about McConnell's reassurance to centrists that Medicaid cuts set to go into effect in 2025 would never be realized.
"I did find the story about Leader McConnell's comments about Medicaid reforms just too far in the future probably never being enacted — I found those pretty troubling," Johnson said.
The delay due to McCain's medical emergency didn't help matters, either, as some worried that it would allow more time for opponents to press their efforts. The only polls at measure about 15 percent support, according to public surveys, and Republican Senate offices have been home to nearly daily protests by activists opposed to the Republican plan.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Republicans should "start from scratch and work with Democrats" on a bill to fix problems with Obamacare.
"This second failure of Trumpcare is proof positive that the core of this bill is unworkable," Schumer said in a statement.
Still, Republican senators are promoting their own ideas on how to move forward.
McCain released a statement saying Republicans should forgo the current process, start over and work with Democrats.
"The Congress must now return to regular order, hold hearings, receive input from members of both parties, and heed the recommendations of our nation's governors so that we can produce a bill that finally provides Americans with access to quality and affordable health care," McCain said.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., tweeted a link to an opinion piece he wrote, promoting his idea of allowing each state to determine whether Obamacare — or another idea — works for the state.