McConnell to Senate Republicans: I'd hate to be you if AHCA fails

McConnell to Senate Republicans: I'd hate to be you if AHCA fails

Isn’t this backwards? If the effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare stalls in the Senate, the man on the hotseat will be Mitch McConnell, who has the ever-thankless task of shepherding the White House’s agenda in the upper chamber. The Majority Leader warned his colleagues today that, at the least, blame rolls downhill:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned fellow Republicans Tuesday of political consequences if they oppose health care legislation coming up for a vote in the House this week.

“I would hate to be a Republican whose vote prevented us from keeping the commitment we’ve made to the American people for almost 10 years now” to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s health care law, the Kentucky Republican told Associated Press reporters and editors in an interview.

“I think the American people would be deeply disappointed that we were prevented from keeping our commitment by Republicans who in the end, in effect, voted for the status quo.”

That assumes, of course, that the Senate will even get the bill. The House vote looks close, and the need to wheel and deal continued late into last night and probably will continue today and tomorrow, too. Donald Trump came to Capitol Hill in person to deliver the same message to House Republicans as McConnell’s to Senate Republicans, only with more characteristic bluntness.

Trump’s intervention might have boosted McConnell’s confidence:

McConnell sounded confident that the bill will pass the House and come over to the Senate, where it is currently short of votes. He made clear the legislation will change in the Senate so it can pass, though he declined to predict what the final product will look like or guarantee ultimate success.

However, the perception of the bill being “dead on arrival” in the Senate might become a self-fulfilling prophecy — and one that would relieve some of McConnell’s colleagues, too:

And so long as it remains very likely the bill is dead on arrival in the Senate, House skeptics (both moderate Republicans and Freedom Caucus types) will be wary about taking a controversial, unnecessary vote.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand why Senate Republicans would prefer to see the bill fail in the House. Until it passes, they can stand on their previous positions, because — as it was for the last several years for Republicans — the question of how to repeal and replace ObamaCare would still be academic in the upper chamber. As soon as the bill passes the House, however, Senate Republicans have to choose between doing nothing and compromising to get half a loaf rather than none. The reason why House Republicans have progressed as far as they have is precisely because that choice has become their reality. The more they can make the situation look hopeless, the better off Senate Republicans would be.

Trump’s full-court press changes that calculation, however, in one important way. The resistance from conservatives in both chambers is the lack of a clean repeal, but Trump repeatedly promised before and after the election not to do a repeal without a plan to replace. Just last week, Trump insisted he’d veto a bill that didn’t meet that standard. Without the president on board, voting for a clean repeal is even worse politically than voting for the AHCA; it’s a vote for a sink-or-swim approach that won’t ever become law and leaves ObamaCare in place. Trump’s march down Pennsylvania Avenue and the efforts by GOP leadership to play Let’s Make a Deal make it clear that he’s not going to compromise on that promise, even if he’s willing to bargain on almost anything else.

If the Senate balks at that, then McConnell’s right; he’d hate to be them, just as much as they’d hate to be him.

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