Senate Republicans brush off Trump’s healthcare demands

Senate Republicans appear poised to ignore President Trump’s demands that they immediately resurrect ObamaCare repeal and abolish the legislative filibuster.

Trump has waged a public pressure campaign against GOP senators since they failed to pass even a “skinny” bill repealing ObamaCare last week.

Unless Republicans are “total quitters,” Trump tweeted, they will revive their years-long effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare. While they’re at it, Trump wrote, Republicans should get rid of the 60-vote procedural hurdle for legislation, saying they “look like fools and are just wasting time.”

But Trump’s demands might fall on deaf ears.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) warned reporters Monday not to “leap to conclusions” that Republicans won’t be able to pass a healthcare bill, but appeared to hint that a second vote isn’t imminent.

“What we do know is next is nominations and hopefully Sen. [Charles] Schumer will agree to break the logjam … and that would be a good use of our next two weeks,” the No. 2 Senate Republican said.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), another member of Senate GOP leadership, said Republicans could circle back to healthcare when they reach a consensus. Until then, “it’s time to move on” and put “wins on the board,” he said.

“Obviously we didn’t give up and we didn’t quit and we gave it our best shot, and we can come back to this at a later time,” Blunt said, asked about Trump’s tweets.

Trump targeted GOP leadership by name in his tweetstorm, saying “Mitch M, go to 51 Votes NOW and WIN. IT’S TIME!”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) regularly declines to weigh in on Trump’s tweets, except to say he wishes the president would tweet less.

But he’s shot down previous calls from Trump to end the legislative filibuster.

“That will not happen,” he told reporters after a similar request in May.

Asked if that was still McConnell’s position, a spokesman for the Kentucky Republican said that if Senate Republicans change their mind on the rules, they’d make an announcement.

Changing the rules might not make it easier to pass healthcare — which only needed a simple majority — but it would allow Republicans to leapfrog Democrats on other legislative issues like immigration, funding the government and raising the debt ceiling.

But many Republicans have shown little interest in getting rid of the 60-vote threshold. Many Republican senators fear ending the filibuster would have disastrous repercussions.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who is up for reelection in 2018 and has been a target of Trump’s ire, predicted Senate Republicans are unlikely to change the rules.

“I don’t want to lurch back and forth every couple of years from one extreme to the other,” he told CBS News on Monday. “Those rules are there for a reason. They’re good. … They invite us to work across the aisle.”

Senators in both parties have warned that nixing the filibuster would essentially turn their chamber into the House and backfire on Republicans in the minority, when they would no longer have the power to block Democratic legislation.

After Republicans went “nuclear” to ensure Supreme Court nominations could be approved with a simple majority, 61 senators sent a letter to McConnell and Schumer in support of preserving the 60-vote legislative filibuster.

Meanwhile, GOP leadership has also given no indication that it wants to spend the spend first two weeks of August relitigating the healthcare vote despite efforts by the White House to inject fresh urgency.

During an emotional speech after the failed healthcare vote, McConnell told his caucus, most of whom were still in their seats on the Senate floor, “that it is time to move on.”

When he opened up the Senate late Monday afternoon, the message-disciplined GOP leader made no mention of the healthcare fight.

Instead, McConnell talked of working on a Trump judicial nominee and teed up consideration for a National Labor Relations Board member. Those nominations, if senators drag out debate time, could easily eat up the Senate’s week.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the second highest-ranking Senate official, also broke with Trump on Monday, telling Reuters “there’s just too much animosity and we’re too divided on healthcare.”

Senate Republicans pointed to a backlog of nominations when they decided to delay their summer recess by two weeks. They also want to approve Christopher Wray’s nomination to be the FBI director before leaving town.

But even as senators shift their attention to nominees, the White House is playing hardball, unwilling to let ObamaCare repeal drop.

Trump is warning GOP senators that the “world is watching.” Mick Mulvaney, the president’s budget chief, said over the weekend that the Senate shouldn’t move on to other issues until they pass a healthcare bill.

Asked about Mulvaney’s remarks, Cornyn advised the former House member to focus on his own job.

“I don’t think he’s got much experience in the Senate, as I recall,” he said.

GOP leadership doesn’t appear to have the votes to take up a healthcare bill for the time being.

With Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in Arizona for cancer treatments until September, McConnell can only afford to lose one GOP senator and still be able to take up the House-passed healthcare bill.

“Everything’s harder when you have people missing, and certainly that would have an effect,” Cornyn said when asked about McCain’s absence.

To move forward on a bill, leadership would have to flip GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) or Susan Collins (Maine), which seems unlikely.

Both voted against taking up the healthcare bill and have signaled they won’t be strong-armed by the administration or leadership. They also were celebrated back in their home states over the weekend for opposing the “skinny repeal.”

Collins added on Sunday that Trump’s threat to cut off ObamaCare’s cost-sharing reduction payments wouldn’t impact her vote.

Even as Trump publicly pressures GOP senators, the White House is also playing host to a rotating door of lawmakers. Top conservatives, including GOP Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), are predicting colleagues will come back to the negotiating table.

“No party can remain in power by lying to the American people, and I hope and pray that our party doesn’t try to do that,” Cruz told reporters after the failed healthcare vote.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) are now pushing a proposal that would shift most of the decision-making power on healthcare back to state governments.

Trump met with Graham on Friday, while Cassidy went to the White House on Monday to meet with Tom Price, Trump’s healthcare chief, and several governors.

It’s unclear whether their proposal could win over conservatives, and it doesn’t yet have a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score, which means it would need 60 votes to pass.

“If I had a vote on my bill right now I would get in the high 40s,” Graham told reporters late last week, adding wanted more time to get a CBO score that could help him make his case.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on Monday said that they were continuing to have talks with the White House and governors on healthcare.

“We’re moving forward. Maybe set this aside while we do tax reform,” he said, “but we have to continue working on his healthcare system because ObamaCare is a mess.”

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