“We just pulled it,” President Donald Trump called to tell Washington Post reporter Robert Costa around 3:30 p.m. ET on Friday. “We had no votes from the Democrats,” Trump said later in remarks to press. “They weren’t going to give us a single vote so it’s a very difficult thing to do…I think what will happen is Obamacare, unfortunately, will explode. It’s going to have a bad year.”
Republicans never sought any Democratic votes, and Trump has previously floated the idea of trying to let the Affordable Care Act cave in on itself rather than repeal it this early in his presidency.
Just minutes after the bill was pulled, a somber-looking House Speaker Paul Ryan emerged at a hastily called news conference to lament the new GOP governing coalition’s "growing pains." He refused to “sugarcoat” his party's major legislative defeat, and acknowledge he could not reach a consensus with hardline conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus.
“I spoke to the president just a little while ago and I told him that the best thing I think to do is to pull this bill, and he agreed with that decision,” Ryan said at a press conference following the decision.
"Moving from an opposition party to a governing party comes with growing pains and, well, we're feeling those growing pains today," the speaker said. "This is a disappointing day for us. Doing big things is hard.”
He added, bluntly: "This is a setback—no two ways about it."
"We're going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future," Ryan admitted, signaling a shift toward other items on the GOP's legislative agenda, including tax reform and border security.
A late Thursday rally—which brought White House advisers to the Hill to try to convince holdouts to back the American Health Care Act (AHCA)—gave Republicans some hope that they might be able to squeak by.
But that good will had faded as the sun rose over Capitol Hill, because apparently after a good night’s sleep those holdouts were still “no” votes.
At a vote on Friday morning, Majority Whip Steve Scalise moved around the House floor trying to stem the bleeding. From the seats above the House gallery, Scalise could be seen talking to “no”-leaners Rep. Warren Davidson, who holds Speaker John Boehner’s old House seat in Ohio, and New Jersey’s Chris Smith.
But as Scalise nodded and wrote down Smith’s comments, another member of the New Jersey delegation—House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen—announced his opposition. Hours after Scalise’s conversation with Davidson, his fellow Ohioan Rep. David Joyce announced his vote would be a no.
Meanwhile, House Freedom Caucus members seemed to dig in further. Upon hearing that White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and President Trump were compiling a “shit list” of those who opposed the bill, an aide working for the hardline conservative caucus responded, “Meh.”
When asked by The Daily Beast if he was at all concerned about potentially making the White House “hit list” for his staunch opposition from the beginning to the American Health Care Act, Freedom Caucus member Rep. Justin Amash just smiled, laughed, and replied, “What do you think?”
"That champagne that wasn't popped [by Democrats] last November might be utilized [this week]," Republican congressman Mark Walker told reporters on Friday afternoon, roughly an hour before this week’s Trumpcare-Ryancare hard-sell finally imploded on itself.
Just before everything officially collapsed, The Daily Beast asked a House Republican aide about the current state of affairs on the AHCA. The aide messaged back, "I have a song to explain," and then sent along a YouTube link to a song by hip-hop artist T.I. titled, “Dead and Gone.”
Failure this week to even get a floor vote on Trump and Ryan’s repeal-and-replace effort belies Trump’s self-promoted reputation as a “closer” and as an expert dealmaker. The White House had been claiming for days that there would be a vote and that it would get done this week. The White House aggressively courted Freedom Caucus members in a bid for a deal that would pacify the caucus’s members.
All those plans, and pitches and concessions that came from the president himself, amounted to a setback at best, and humiliation at worst. Trump’s ultimatums and targeted threats didn’t move the needle enough in his direction, either.
“We’re taking [Trumpcare] down,” a House Freedom Caucus aide told The Daily Beast on Tuesday morning. Later that day, Congressman Rod Blum, a member of the Freedom Caucus, said that Ryan and co. simply “don’t have the votes,” and that he and other hardliners were playing a game of chicken with House GOP leadership.
“Let’s see who blinks first,” Blum said.
On Friday afternoon, the other guys blinked first.