President Trump to House GOP: It's My Way or Obamacare Stays

After trying to appease the Freedom Caucus, the White House broke off negotiations and issued an ultimatum: pass a bill Friday or never.

Photo illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

After a day of meetings on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, House Republicans and President Donald “The Closer” Trump appeared no closer to passing their unpopular health-care bill.

By Thursday evening, Trump pulled out the stops and sent his top lieutenants to make his homestretch pitch to congressional Republicans. Stephen Bannon, Mick Mulvaney (who was seen carrying a folder marked “Urgent Action”), and Reince Priebus convened in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office to try to convince still-skeptical members of the Freedom Caucus. The private meeting, which included a veal parm dinner, was hardly the slamdunk anyone wanted. When Freedom Caucus member Rep. Mo Brooks finally emerged from the hours-long gathering, The Daily Beast asked him if there was any change or new progress. Brooks replied, tersely, “none.”

Subsequently, another Freedom Caucus source messaged The Daily Beast, “NO progress,” following the private dinner with Ryan and the White House officials.

Next, the small gathering headed to the bowels of the Capitol, where House Republicans and White House officials (now joined by Kellyanne Conway), attended another closed-door meeting—this time to rally the troops and, in a way, deliver an ultimatum.

According to multiple people in the room, Mulvaney told the crowd that their president is demanding a vote on Friday, and that he's through negotiating. And if the AHCA tanks, Trump is moving on to working on tax reform, and everyone is “stuck with Obamacare,” Mulvaney cautioned.

During their big, after-hours meeting, the House Republicans at times got loud and rowdy. One House Republican even stood up and started quoting Benjamin Franklin from the Constitutional Convention, to a crescendo of applause, Rep. Matt Gaetz told press. But for all the celebratory and fired-up antics, the bill’s skeptics left Capitol Hill on Thursday as skeptics or hard-no’s.

Meadows, for one, left the meeting assuring reporters that his mind hadn’t changed, and that he had another meeting with his caucus that evening to discuss next steps. Bannon left the GOP House meeting saying, “vote, and we’ll see,” as he headed to the door mid-meeting. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, when asked repeatedly by reporters if leadership has the votes tomorrow to pass Trumpcare shot back, “Of course we have the votes,” keeping his game face up.

The dramatic, sustained uncertainty heading into Friday’s planned vote is in large part a direct result of the Freedom Caucus trying to draw every desired concession out of congressional leadership and Trump, and still not completely and absolutely getting the caucus’s way.

Trump took his carrot and stick negotiating efforts to Twitter on Friday, explaining to his conservative foes that after seven years of Obamacare, "This is finally your chance for a great plan!" He then claimed that the Freedom Caucus would be complicit in the funding of Planned Parenthood if they did not back his plan.

As the bill grew more conservative overnight on Wednesday, leadership watched as moderate Republicans jumped ship—leaving them increasingly at the mercy of the House Freedom Caucus. A visibly frustrated Rep. Patrick McHenry, the chief deputy whip of the Republican Conference, hurried through the halls midday telling reporters that the Freedom Caucus had been presented with a deal and it was up to them to “accept or reject” it.

While leadership frantically plied the remaining moderates with pizza, the Freedom Caucus met at the White House in an attempt to woo more caucus votes for his Trumpcare legislation.

During the meeting, the White House offered nixing “essential health benefits” from the House bill—a proposal that would prove anathema to more moderate Republicans in both the House and Senate. The president, however, did not budge on Title I of the Affordable Care Act, which many members of the caucus deemed a dealbreaker.

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Upon their return to the Hill, they huddled behind closed doors inside the Rayburn Office Building for two hours, before emerging to tell reporters very little had changed.

“We have not gotten enough of our members to get to yes at this point under what we’re currently considering,” Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, told reporters, emerging from a closed-door meeting in the Rayburn House Office Building, following his latest face-to-face with Trump.

He noted that “progress,” however fruitless at this point, was being made with the president.

When asked by The Daily Beast if he agreed with some of his conservative colleagues that voting for the American Health Care Act, as is, would be worse than doing nothing, Meadows responded, ”I think at this point, some of the provisions in here do not lower health-care costs enough... [but] the problem with doing nothing [is] I don’t believe that that’s an option.”

The Daily Beast pointed out to Meadows that Michael Cannon, a Cato Institute health-care wonk who was invited to address the caucus yesterday, told members that doing so would be worse, Meadows replied, “Mike Cannon is certainly a learned individual when it comes to health care.”

As the day progressed it became clear to that the math didn’t work out and that the bill would have to be pushed back.

But despite the increased travel between the White House and the Capitol on Thursday, apparently no one told the White House.

“The president’s plan is to pass the bill tonight, get it on to the Senate, and then sign a bill once it goes through conference,” a confident White House press secretary Sean Spicer confidently told reporters. “That’s the president’s plan, and that’s why the president has been fighting for it.”

An hour later House Republican leaders, realizing their vote count was still shy the 215 they need, postponed it until Friday.