As members of Congress prepared for a two-week break from the routine chaos of Capitol Hill, it became clear on Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s health care bill, which many had considered dead and buried, was clawing its way out of the dirt.
Trumpcare has morphed into Zombiecare—and it just won’t stay dead.
But the embattled replacement for the Affordable Care Act wasn’t really alive either, as of Tuesday.
What form the undead plan will eventually take was still up in the air after a two-hour meeting in the basement of the Capitol Tuesday night. The meeting involved a small group of members representing the various factions of the Republican conference and heavy-hitters from the administration including Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, Health and Human Service Secretary Tom Price, and Vice President Mike Pence
All-day rumors had floated around Washington that the White House would deliver the text of the bill by the end of the day on Tuesday. Republicans, including in the House Freedom Caucus, stressed that they needed to read the legislative text before rendering any verdict. But once the door closed on the late-night meeting, there was still nothing concrete for members to debate or even read.
Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, told The Daily Beast that while the White House had strongly suggested they would have text by the end of the day, he acknowledged, “that’s different from promising.”
He also confirmed that “certainly no agreements in terms of foundation” for a deal had materialized. He and other members of Congress emerging from the meeting around 10:30 p.m. all agreed that more meetings would have to happen tomorrow, and that whatever semblance of “progress” they were touting tonight wasn’t anywhere close to the slam-dunk Republicans were praying to happen before recess.
Throughout the day, Trump administration officials roamed the halls of Capitol Hill on Tuesday afternoon. Mulvaney patrolled the House floor; Pence sat in on a weekly meeting between members of the major House caucuses, including the hardline-conservative Freedom Caucus and the moderate Tuesday Group and House Speaker Paul Ryan, as Republican members anxiously awaited language from a revised version of the American Health Care Act that went down in flames just 11 days ago. The bill was torpedoed, not just by opposition from staunch conservatives, but also more moderate voices, who saw the bill as far too toxic.
Earlier in the day, a much more optimistic-sounding Meadows told reporters the discussions were ongoing between the various GOP factions inside the House.
“Lower premiums has to be our first and only priority and if we do something that lowers premiums then we’ll all win in the end,” the congressman said.
He characterized the second round of talks as “solid discussions of potential options with nothing promised on either side, other than a willingness to put forth an idea and consider an idea.”
In other words, there was still no actual deal, and no actual, real offers on the table from the White House.
But while dismissing the need for artificial deadlines, Meadows conceded that the upcoming congressional recess could throw a wrench in the delicate, attempted do-over.
“Are you suggesting that it’s not like a fine wine that doesn’t improve with time? Come on,” he joked when a reporter asked him if the two-week break could jettison any progress. “Many of us are willing to come back or stay in session if we’re close, so hopefully we’ll get this done so that it doesn’t create any further objections over a long recess.”
The effort to reanimate the dead Trumpcare/Ryancare bill comes as the White House has amped up the pressure on Meadows and several of his Freedom Caucus comrades in arms.
The president has repeatedly called the North Carolina congressman out by name, on Twitter and elsewhere in public, as a hinderance to his bill. As recently as Thursday, Trump was, according to administration officials, in a “vengeful mood” and hate-tweeting the Freedom Caucus, calling on people to “fight” its members. Furthermore, as The Daily Beast previously reported, the president’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon had advised Trump to compile a “shit list” of those who opposed the AHCA, and that Bannon wanted the running tally displayed in his West Wing “war room.” Trump, for his part, was more than receptive to this enemies-list-type idea.
Freedom Caucus members do not appear all that intimidated.
Earlier on Tuesday, while Meadows brushed off the idea of a primary challenge, even one egged on by President Trump, saying, “the threats of a primary in my district had an opposite effect,” he did say the White House pressure has been high.
“I think we are feeling pressure from the White House, but I can tell you there is probably more internal pressure for me to deliver on behalf of the people who are hurting under Obamacare,” he said.
Asked by The Daily Beast how often he heard from the executive branch, Meadows smiled and replied: “Pretty regularly.”
Rep. Mark Sanford, a Freedom Caucus member, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday afternoon that the “Devil is always in the details as it relates to legislation,” and like his colleagues, he was awaiting released text of the revised AHCA before deciding whether to support the bill.
The White House had conveyed to the caucus that they would have the text available for them by close of business on Tuesday. The attempts at deal-making that the White House had floated to members and in the press this week only seemed to deepen divisions, make passage more of a fairy tale, and target some of Obamacare’s most popular aspects.
When asked by The Daily Beast if any actual, real, concrete progress on this had been made this or last week, Republican congressman and deputy Majority Whip Tom Cole said, “I don’t know.”
Tuesday Group member Rep. Tom MacArthur said it was too early to say whether any progress could be made in the coming days.
“The idea is still a bit nascent so I think our members want to see the language,” MacArthur said. “We had our weekly meeting today [with the Speaker] so I just think it’s early and see what the language looks like.”
The mood among senior Republican staffers on the Hill and in the Trump White House was hardly jubilant, either. Despite the spin coming out of Republican offices that groups are on the cusp of a major breakthrough or that (stunningly!) House Republicans could be voting on a new, shinier bill before the end of this work week, conservatives involved in the process concede in private to having nothing more than “very cautious optimism”—with a long road ahead—at best, and fatalism at worst.
"’Zombie Trumpcare’ is exactly that: a zombie—slow-moving, disintegrating,” one House Republican aide messaged The Daily Beast on Tuesday morning.