Senate Republican leaders decided on Tuesday to not hold a vote on a last-ditch attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare before a critical, end-of-the-month deadline.
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) had been pushing for a vote on their legislation that would block-grant federal funds to individual states. But the duo, along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), chose not to hold a vote because the bill lacked enough support. They delivered the news to their Republican colleagues at a caucus lunch Tuesday, a GOP aide told The Daily Beast.
“We don't have the votes,” said Cassidy, upon leaving that lunch. “We made the decision that because we don't have the votes, we will postpone the vote.”
Graham told reporters that the GOP conference will return to Graham-Cassidy “with a process that gives more attention and time,” directly addressing concerns from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and others about the rushed process. Other GOP senators seemed optimistic that they could seal the deal on a seven-year-long campaign promise.
“The decision was a joint one between Lindsey and Bill and the other two sponsors and also the leader that if the votes are not there, not to have the vote, but not to give up,” said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS). “We're going to try to do this in some form in this session of Congress.”
The latest GOP effort suffered a major setback on Monday when Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) announced her opposition, joining fellow opponents Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and McCain.
As recently as that evening, however, Graham was pushing for the Senate to hold a vote on his bill. But McConnell ended up determining that it wasn’t worth the bad optics to hold a vote that would fail, as he did back in July when McCain dealt the death blow to separate repeal-and-replace legislation.
McConnell’s decision likely did not come as a surprise to his GOP colleagues, many of whom were pessimistic about the likelihood of a vote passing or even being held.
“Everybody knows that’s going to fail,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) told The Daily Beast on Monday. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), who was likely to vote for the bill despite expressing concerns last week, bemoaned the process by it had been written and considered. “I don’t even know what the bill looks like anymore,” he said. “I don’t even know what the bill says anymore. I have no idea what it says.”
The effort to pass Graham-Cassidy had been rushed in an attempt to secure a vote before the Senate’s budget reconciliation rules—a process by which Republicans could pass a health care bill with just 50 votes—expire on September 30. After that date, any legislation would need 60 votes.
Republicans will now look to pass another set of budget reconciliation rules to be able to consider health care reform again through a simple majority vote. But those rules won’t likely be written for another year or more.
In the meantime, McConnell’s decision to pull a vote on Graham-Cassidy is likely to produce fierce backlash from Trump-aligned conservatives who are frustrated with his leadership. Many blame McConnell—not Trump—for the fact that the president does not yet have a major legislative achievement under his belt. Though Trump himself had talked up the bill and encouraged its passage, a senior administration official told The Daily Beast that the president is “well prepared” to go after McConnell for the failure.
Republican senators and McConnell allies have forcefully pushed back on that narrative, and Graham praised McConnell for his efforts on Tuesday.
“To the leader, thank you. It’s complicated. It’s difficult politics. Instead of quitting, you allowed us to move forward, and oh my God how far we’ve come in such a short time,” Graham said, also applauding Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. “To anybody out there who thinks that Mitch McConnell has not done all he could, you don't know what you're talking about.”
This article has been updated with new reporting.