President speaks on health care, pushes Senate to take action

FILE - In this March 1, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump, flanked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., left, and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., speaks during a meeting with House and Senate leadership, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. Repeal and replace “Obamacare.” Just repeal. Or let it fail _ maybe with a little nudge. President Donald Trump has sent a flurry of mixed messages, raising questions about the White House strategy on health care. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

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WASHINGTON (AP/WDTN) — President Donald Trump pressured Republicans Monday to approve the Senate’s wheezing health care bill, saying a showdown vote planned for this week is their “last chance to do the right thing” and erase the Obama law.

Trump’s prodding came a day before leaders say the Senate will vote on legislation shredding much of President Barack Obama’s health care law. Lacking the votes to push it through his chamber, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., postponed one roll call last month and hasn’t yet announced exactly what version of the measure lawmakers would consider Tuesday.

Complicating McConnell’s hopes of drumming up last-minute support, Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich said it would be a mistake for the Senate to move ahead Tuesday “and force a one-sided deal that the American people are clearly against.” Kasich’s stance could make it harder for wavering Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who’s criticized the measure’s Medicaid cuts, to vote for the measure.

In his statement, Kasich panned the bill for a lack of “bipartisanship, transparency or open dialogue.” He said Congress should take no action on recrafting the nation’s health care system until it can “step back from political gamesmanship and come together with a workable, bipartisan plan.”

Portman and other Republican senators were also being pounded from the White House.

“Republicans have a last chance to do the right thing on Repeal & Replace after years of talking & campaigning on it,” Trump tweeted Monday.

Trump’s contentious tone toward members of his own party underscored the high stakes as he tries winning Republican votes for a goal the GOP has trumpeted since the statute’s 2010 enactment. He planned to make formal remarks on the health care legislation later Monday.

Characteristic of his scattershot effort on his party’s health care drive, Trump also spent the morning tweeting insults at Democrats, the news media and his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, about their handling of investigations into his 2016 campaign’s possible collusion with Russia.

Republicans hold a 52-48 Senate majority, but around a dozen GOP senators have publicly said they oppose their party’s measure or criticized it. With Democrats standing united in opposition, McConnell would prevail if no more than two Republicans oppose the legislation, a number that shrinks to one if Arizona Sen. John McCain remains home for cancer treatments.

In comments highlighting GOP tensions, Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, said it is “absolutely repugnant” that Republican senators aren’t following through on campaign promises to repeal Obama’s law.

Without naming them, he mentioned “female senators from the Northeast” and said, “If it was a guy from South Texas, I might ask him to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr style,” a reference to the firearms duel in which Burr killed Alexander Hamilton.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has opposed the GOP replacement plan. Other Republicans expressing reservations include Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Farenthold spoke Friday on 1440 KEYS radio’s “The Bob Jones Show” in Corpus Christi, Texas. A Farenthold spokeswoman said he could not immediately be reached for comment.

On Sunday, the Senate GOP No. 3 leader said McConnell will decide soon on which health care bill to bring up for a vote, depending on ongoing discussions with GOP senators.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., sought to cast this week’s initial vote as important but mostly procedural, allowing senators to begin debate and propose amendments. But he acknowledged that senators should be able to know beforehand what bill they will be considering.

“That’s a judgment that Senator McConnell will make at some point this week before the vote,” Thune said,.

Senate Republicans are considering legislation that would repeal and replace Obama’s law, and a separate bill that would simply repeal “Obamacare” with a two-year delay for implementation to give Congress more time to agree on a replacement. Both versions encountered opposition from enough GOP senators to doom the effort.

At least two Republican senators Sunday appeared to reaffirm their intention to vote against the procedural motion if it involved the latest version of the GOP’s repeal-and-replace bill.

Collins said she continued to have concerns about reductions to Medicaid and criticized the Republican process, saying lawmakers were being unfairly kept in the dark. She cited uncertainty about which version of the bill the Senate will consider and said, “I don’t think that’s a good approach to replacing legislation that affects millions of people.”

Conservative Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said he would only support a repeal-only bill.

“The other alternative is the Senate leadership bill that doesn’t repeal Obamacare, is Obamacare light and is loaded with pork. … I’m not for that,” said Paul.

Thune appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” Collins on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” and Paul on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

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