House Republicans struck an optimistic note Tuesday that they would be able to salvage their failed health-care bill, but there was little indication of any concrete shift in the political fundamentals that led to its failure.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters that “some of those who were in the ‘no’ camp expressed a willingness to work on getting to yes and to making this work.” He did not, however, commit to a particular path forward.
“I’m not going to put a timeline on it, because this is too important to not get right and to put an artificial timeline on it,” he said.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday acknowledged talks but no imminent plans for reviving the bill. “Have we had some discussions and listened to ideas? Yes,” he told reporters. “Are we actively planning an immediate strategy? Not at this time.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that the “status quo” would remain after Trump and Ryan “went all out” to pass their bill: “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.”
Ryan’s comments came after a closed-door House GOP conference meeting that stretched to nearly two hours. Members ejected staff from the room in the Capitol basement and, according to several members present, proceeded to line up at microphones to deliver calls for party unity.
“Whatever your challenges are, give them a boot in the backside and you overcome them,” Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) said to reporters, recounting his remarks to his colleagues. “Health care has to be revisited. We can’t leave this alone.”
Ryan told members that “we’re still going to try to find a way to get this done,” said Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.).“We spent years writing this bill — we’re not just going to walk away from it.”
On Monday, Ryan told donors on a private call that the health-care push would continue “on two tracks” as the House pursues other priorities of President Trump. He pledged to “lay out the path forward on health care and all the rest of the agenda” at a coming weekend retreat in Florida.
While members of all ideological stripes expressed hopes that the American Health Care Act could be resurrected in the coming weeks, none could say specifically what they would be willing to accept this week that they would not accept last week — when a frantic push from Trump and House GOP leaders left hard-line conservatives and moderates opposing the bill.
Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), a member of the hard-right Freedom Caucus, said Tuesday that “everybody wants it to happen now” and that “once the groups come together, they’re not that far off.”
But Gosar said his view of the legislation had not changed: “We’ve promised people lower premiums — that’s what we’ve got to do.”
Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), another Freedom Caucus member, also said he believed the impasse would be short-lived: “We’re going to get to yes, we’re going to get a better bill, and everyone is going to be very happy in the end.”
Brat suggested, however, that his bloc had already made significant concessions — for instance, accepting a federal tax credit system that many hard-liners despise — and that it was up to other holdouts to compromise.
“The idea that we’re compromising within that new structure, that’s a pretty big compromise,” he said. “It seems to me folks should go say: ‘Hey, what about the other groups? Why can’t they get to yes?’ ”
House leaders made a significant change to the bill last week to address Freedom Caucus concerns, allowing states to undo federal “essential health benefits” established under the Affordable Care Act. But that change led to several moderate members pulling their support for the bill.
Trump has openly blamed the Freedom Caucus for the failure of the bill. “The Republican House Freedom Caucus was able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” he tweeted Monday. “After so many bad years they were ready for a win!”
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the Freedom Caucus chairman, told reporters Tuesday that he had talked to at least one leader of the moderate Tuesday Group faction in hopes of reaching a mutual resolution, but he declined to detail what tweaks are under consideration.
He suggested Congress’s upcoming Easter break could be put on hold: “I don’t think we need to go home until . . . we get a solution done.”
Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), a Tuesday Group co-chairman, said he had spoken to Meadows about a possible resolution to the impasse and said he was “cautiously optimistic” there could be a breakthrough.
“I think to some degree, we all have to get over ourselves and do the right thing for our country and our people,” he said. “There may be a handful who want to be no on both sides. ... But people all around -- both in Freedom Caucus and in Tuesday Group -- there are a bulk of people who want to get to yes; they just want to get there on the right bill.”
But House leaders played down the potential that they would return quickly to the health-care push. Ryan told reporters Tuesday that House committees would work on other agenda items as health-care talks continued.
At least one member said he would not wait for leadership to force new action on health care. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), a Freedom Caucus member, said Tuesday that he and other authors of various Obamacare repeal bills were discussing plans to force votes on their measures using a procedural shortcut known as a discharge petition.
If a discharge petition reaches 218 signatures, the speaker is forced to put it to a vote on the House floor.
“We will find out who is truly for repeal of Obamacare and who is not,” Brooks said.
Brooks said that he preferred to force a vote on a 2015 ACA repeal bill, which passed Congress but was vetoed by President Barack Obama. But he said he also was considering filing a discharge petition on his own bill — a one-line repeal of the ACA.
Besides the internal politics of the House GOP, the Republican health-care push faces other major obstacles. Trump signaled Friday he would move on and not expend any further political capital on the effort, Senate Republicans remain deeply wary of the House approach, and recent polls show public opinion running strongly against the now-dormant GOP bill.
Ryan said he was focused for the time being on getting his fellow Republicans to work as a team.
“We’re not going to retrench into our corners or put up dividing lines,” he told reporters. “I don’t want us to become a factionalized majority. I want us to become a unified majority, and that means we’re going to sit down and talk things out until we get there, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
But other House leaders were more willing to make bold claims. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) told reporters Tuesday that Democrats who celebrated the bill’s failure last week were being “premature.”
“I think we’re closer today to repealing Obamacare than we’ve ever been before and surely even closer than we were Friday,” Scalise said. “So we’re going to keep working. This issue isn’t going away.”
Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.