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WASHINGTON — The latest GOP effort to repeal and replace "Obamacare" was fatally wounded in the Senate Monday night when two Republican senators — including Utah's Mike Lee — announced their opposition to legislation strongly backed by President Donald Trump.
The announcements from Lee and Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas left the Republican Party's long-promised efforts to get rid of President Barack Obama's health care legislation reeling. Next steps, if any, were not immediately clear.
Lee and Moran both said they could not support Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's legislation in its current form. They joined GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky, both of whom announced their opposition right after McConnell released the bill last Thursday.
"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.”
Lee's staff confirmed that Trump called the senator on Saturday to discuss the health care bill, noting that Lee told him he was still undecided.
McConnell is now at least two votes short in the closely divided Senate and may have to go back to the drawing board or even begin to negotiate with Democrats, a prospect he's threatened but resisted so far.
It was the second straight failure for McConnell, who had to cancel a vote on an earlier version of the bill last month when defeat became inevitable.
Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 18, 2017
Trump had kept his distance from the Senate process, but Monday night's development was a major blow for him, too, as the president failed to rally support for what has been the GOP's trademark issue for seven years — ever since Obama and the Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act in the first place.
The Senate bill eliminated mandates and taxes under Obamacare, and unraveled a Medicaid expansion. But for conservatives like Lee and Paul, it didn't go far enough in delivering on Republican Party promises to undo Obama's law, while moderates like Collins viewed the bill as too extreme in yanking insurance coverage from millions.
McConnell's latest version aimed to satisfy both camps, by incorporating language by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas allowing insurers to sell skimpy plans alongside more robust ones, and by adding billions to treat opioid addiction and to defray consumer costs.
But his efforts did not achieve the intended result.
Here is my statement explaining why I will vote no on the BCRA motion to proceed: https://t.co/lDpIGDS456— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) July 18, 2017
There was no immediate reaction from McConnell's office. But Democrats could barely contain their glee.
"This second failure of Trumpcare is proof positive that the core of this bill is unworkable," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. "Rather than repeating the same failed, partisan process yet again, Republicans should start from scratch and work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long term stability to the markets and improves our health care system."
Prior to the stunning announcements from Lee and Moran, the GOP bill stood on the knife's edge, with zero votes to spare but not dead yet. It was apparent that no GOP senator wanted to be the third to announce opposition and become responsible for killing the bill, so the news from Lee and Moran came simultaneously.
It arrived as about a half-dozen senators were at the White House meeting with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence about the next steps in the GOP effort to ensure passage of the bill.
There are at least a half-dozen or so others who are undecided, so it's quite likely that more "no" votes will be announced in the hours and days ahead.
In a Senate divided 52-48 between Republicans and Democrats, McConnell could lose only two senators and still prevail on a procedural vote to open debate on the bill. He had hoped to hold that vote this week, but Sen. John McCain's recovery following surgery in Arizona had already pushed back that timeframe.