Trump warns House Republicans: Many of you will lose your seats in 2018 if this health-care bill doesn't pass

With the House set to vote on Thursday, it’s time to play hardball.

Given how hugely unpopular the bill is across the political spectrum, it may also be true that House Republicans will lose seats if the bill does pass. That’s a fine political conundrum for the GOP Congress to start Trump’s term, being trapped between an angry base that demands action on ObamaCare and an angry rest of the country that doesn’t much like the action they have in mind.

Anyway. “Mark Meadows, I’m coming after you,” Trump said at one point in this morning’s meeting of the Freedom Caucus chairman, which may have been a joke or may not have been. The point of leaning on Meadows, I assume, isn’t to flip his vote so much as it is to warn him not to try to whip opposition against the bill behind the scenes. Meadows himself will almost certainly vote no, if only to prove his conservative bona fides as head of the FC, but he threw Trump a bone by declaring that the Freedom Caucus itself won’t take a position on the bill, which frees members to vote for it if they so choose. Just because the Caucus isn’t formally opposed, though, doesn’t mean some members won’t try to flex their small-government muscle by informally organizing to tank the bill. Trump’s basically warning Meadows this morning that he’ll be held responsible if that happens, whatever the Freedom Caucus’s official position may be.

Which is bad news for Meadows, because some FC members sound pretty sure that Trump and Ryan are headed for defeat. “House leadership does not have the votes to pass this very liberal bill unless they have a bunch of Democrats on board!” said Mo Brooks after leaving a meeting last night. Raul Labrador pronounced himself “confident” that the bill will fail, and Justin Amash predicted that Trump and Ryan would find themselves dozens of votes short between the Freedom Caucus and more moderate Republicans who dislike the bill because it’s too conservative. (“They have seriously miscalculated.”) I think they’re blowing smoke. When the time comes for a gut-check vote, most FC members will fear Trump’s wrath more than they will the wrath of a supposedly “small-government” conservative grassroots that voted en masse for Trump last year — especially since the House bill now looks to be little more than an opening offer to the Senate. Ed flagged it earlier this morning but note this bizarre provision in the now amended House bill:

Trump’s closed-door meeting with House Republicans was coming as party leaders released 43 pages worth of changes to a bill whose prospects remain dicey. Their proposals were largely aimed at addressing dissent that their measure would leave many older people with higher costs.

Included was an unusual approach: language paving the way for the Senate, if it chooses, to make the bill’s tax credit more generous for people age 50-64. Details in the documents released were initially unclear, but one GOP lawmaker and an aide said the plan sets aside $85 billion over 10 years for that purpose.

How often do you see a bill that invites the other chamber to make a suggested change instead of making that change itself? That’s the White House’s version, I assume, of a compromise to simply get Ryan’s plan through the House and into Mitch McConnell’s chamber. If you’re a moderate Republican who wants more generous subsidies for older Americans, good news — the House bill now specifically contemplates that. If you’re a conservative Republican who doesn’t want more generous subsidies from a government that can’t afford them, good news — the House bill doesn’t actually enact them. It punts that to the Senate to make a decision. It’s a gimmick, offered in the hope that it’ll appeal to just enough moderates who expect it to be in a final bill and just enough conservative who expect that it won’t be to clear this first hurdle on Thursday. And once that hurdle is cleared, the bill will gain momentum in the Senate. Or so the White House hopes.

Which is why, according to conservatives in last night’s meeting with the White House, the House bill is now a finished product and won’t be subject to further amendment. (“We’ve gotten the vibe that the negotiations have closed.”) It’s a “take it or leave it” proposition for the House — but not for the Senate:

The White House’s message, according to one Senate aide in the room? After Monday night’s House amendments to the American Health Care Act, which Politico outlines here, there will be “no more changes to the bill.”

“Every senator there was upset,” says the Senate aide.

But a White House aide says that’s an incomplete characterization. The House bill may not receive any more amendments before Thursday’s vote, but the White House maintains the Senate will be allowed to make its own amendments to the bill.

“It was crystal clear there would be changes allowed,” said the White House aide.

There were reports last week quoting unnamed GOP senators hoping that the bill would die in the House so that they wouldn’t be forced to take a bite of this crap sandwich. Previously, the fear was that if the bill made it over to the Senate, they’d have to take a do-or-die vote on what Ryan’s caucus had produced as-is. Now the fear is that not only will they bear chief responsibility for whether the bill passes or fails, they’ll need to battle each other to decide whether it shifts in a more conservative or more moderate direction. If McConnell is persuaded to include the new provision about boosting subsidies for the 50-64 age group, that’s going to make this an even harder vote for Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz. If they vote no and the bill fails, blame will fall squarely on them. Better from their perspective to have the changes they want added to the bill now and then have the House vote on it, in hopes that it’ll fail there and Ryan will bear chief responsibility. Probably not a good sign for the strength of this legislation that much of the strategizing right now has to do with who’ll take the fall when the bill goes down, but maybe Trump can muscle enough nervous GOPers in each chamber to play ball. It does sound like he’s less interested in something particular passing than anything passing, just so he can move along to the stuff he really cares about, like tax cuts and infrastructure. The momentous question is whether there’s any health-care proposal out there, realistically, that can pass both Republican chambers.

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