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SALT LAKE CITY — On Tuesday, Utah Sen. Mike Lee defended his decision Monday to vote against Senate Republicans’ latest attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, saying the new bill didn’t do enough to protect families from rising costs.
“What we found was a bill that doesn’t do quite enough to protect middle-class families throughout America and across Utah from the devastating effects of 'Obamacare,'” Lee said on KSLNewsradio’s "Doug Wright Show." “We still think something can be done. We still think the right bill can pass. What we’re trying to get to is the right kind of bill. The one that can pass and the one that can provide this kind of relief to the American people.”
As senators prepare for another route to deal with health care, Lee appeared on the show to say he was willing to work with fellow Republicans on a repeal of the ACA and coming up with a replacement feature later.
He cited a united effort by fellow Republicans running for federal office over the past seven years to repeal the ACA.
“That has been what has united us,” Lee said. “There has been a pretty wide range of opinions among Republicans as to what should come next, but repeal does unite us, so it may well be that the best thing we can do right now is to put forward a repeal bill and then explore additional ways after that gets done to figure out what comes next.”
Lee and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, announced Monday evening they would not vote for the GOP's Better Care Reconciliation Act, effectively killing it before a vote could be made. A vote on the bill had already been delayed after Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, underwent surgery to remove a blood clot above his left eye on Friday.
President Donald Trump, who Lee’s office confirmed called Lee on Saturday about the health care bill, tweeted Monday shortly after Lee’s announcement that Republicans should repeal the ACA instead of repealing and replacing with a new health care bill.
“Republicans should just REPEAL failing 'ObamaCare' now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!” Trump tweeted.
Trump continued tweeting about health care Tuesday morning, saying: “We were let down by all of the Democrats and a few Republicans. Most Republicans were loyal, terrific & worked really hard. We will return!
“As I have always said, let 'ObamaCare' fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan. Stay tuned!”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed that sentiment Monday night and again on Tuesday, saying the Senate will instead vote to repeal the ACA with a two-year transition period to allow a "stable transition period to a patient-centered health care system."
Sen. Orrin Hatch also called on his colleagues to repeal the ACA, which he said is not working during a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday. He said their work to repeal the law is what has helped Republicans gain control of the presidency and Congress.
"This, Mr. President, was the opportunity we were working toward," Hatch said. "All we had to do was come together and compromise and 7 1/2 years of promises would have been much, much closer to being fulfilled, but last night we blinked."
With the future of health care uncertain Tuesday, Lee noted the Republicans’ process should be to figure out what can pass through the Senate before anything is voted on.
“I do think it’s important for us to try to get the process right, and I think the first step in trying to get the process right is to figure out what can pass,” he said. “Sometimes you have to break it down into its essential elements before you can get things across the finish line.”
As for the prospect of getting bipartisan support on a health care bill, Lee said he is optimistic — but only after a repeal has taken place.
“I think that is entirely possible,” he said. “Once the repeal part of it is out of the way, there will be added incentive and opportunity for Democrats to step in in a constructive way to figure out what comes after 'Obamacare.'”
Hatch, on the other hand, said repealing the ACA may be the Senate's last shot at making adjustments to the health care system he said Republicans have been promising for years.
"We have one more chance to do what we've all said we wanted to do," he said. "I'm aware that some members have already expressed their skepticism — if not their opposition — to this approach. I would hope they would take the time to reconsider."
Contributing: Doug Wright