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Trump vs. the Freedom Caucus

Trump vs. the Freedom Caucus

President Donald Trump is now calling the House Freedom Caucus' bluff. | Getty

The group that brought down Speaker John Boehner is headed for a momentous clash with President Donald Trump on Friday.

And it's anybody's guess who’s going to win.

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The House Freedom Caucus has threatened to tank the House GOP Obamacare replacement bill unless they get what they want. But Trump is now calling their bluff. White House officials told members of the group on Thursday they have one shot: If they help defeat the American Health Care Act, the Trump administration is going to move on — meaning the Freedom Caucus could be pinned with actually saving Obamacare. The White House is betting that they will cave, given that saving Obamacare is something these conservative Republicans will never be able to stomach.

The faceoff with Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — their main nemesis — has brought the group of hardliners to a crossroads. They can vote for a repeal bill they once dubbed “Obamacare Lite.” Or they can stick together and block the president’s first major legislative initiative. Either outcome has huge implications for the future of the Freedom Caucus and its chairman, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).

It’s a showdown GOP leadership has been itching to have for a long time. The Freedom Caucus has been a major thorn in the side of Republican leadership since they sent Boehner packing nearly 18 months ago. During this Obamacare repeal debate, they went around Ryan’s back to negotiate directly with the White House and kept demanding more concessions to secure their votes, angering some senior House Republicans.

The Freedom Caucus won some of the policy disputes, including an agreement from the White House to end the requirement for "essential health benefits" in insurance plans. But they wanted more, including rolling back so-called "Title 1" regulations, such as the ban on discriminating against patients with pre-existing conditions or keeping children on a health plan until age 26. That was too much for the White House and House GOP leaders. Now Trump is done negotiating, he's calling for a vote, and he's leaning on them hard to back the measure.

“It's a really tough choice,” said Freedom Caucus member Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), one of the few lawmakers who embraced Trump early in the 2016 election. “There's probably no issue so important to me. It's why I ran six years ago and it's really important to me that we get this right. I think we can do better... but they're ready to move on.”

The Freedom Caucus, to be sure, may very well win this showdown. Hardline conservatives and a block of unhappy moderates — some of whom now oppose the American Health Care Act because of the same concessions given to conservatives — could bring down the bill and hand Trump and Ryan a major loss.

Between these two factions, there are enough votes to defeat the bill. Ryan will have to deliver 215 votes


CBO: Revisions to GOP health plan add to deficit without improving coverage


Congressional Budget Office Director Keith Hall, right, participates in a media briefing Jan. 24 in Washington, D.C. | Getty

By Sarah Ferris

03/23/17 05:22 PM EDT

Updated 03/23/17 06:59 PM EDT

House GOP leaders' amended Obamacare repeal bill would cost billions more — without covering more people, according to a new report by the CBO.

The slate of changes offered by House GOP leaders this week as they sought more support for their bill to partly repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would cost $186 billion more over 10 years compared to their initial version, according to a 10-page report from the nonpartisan scorekeeper.

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The American Health Care Act is now expected to reduce the deficit by $150 billion over 10 years, a decrease from the $337 billion initially projected.And it still forecasts that 24 million fewer people will have insurance in a decade.

The estimated cost of premiums would also be about the same. CBO has predicted that the average premium for an individual plan would jump between 15 and 20 percent over the next two years. By 2026, premiums would be 10 percent lower than they would have been under current law.

The revisions, which were packed into a “manager’s amendment” on Monday, had been intended to win over more House Republicans. They included larger tax credits for older Americans, new restrictions on Medicaid expansion and an expedited repeal of Obamacare taxes.

Those changes had been expected to cost more than the GOP’s initial bill, though Republican leaders had hoped it would show that fewer people would lose coverage. The GOP's package was thrown into doubt on Thursday, after House Speaker Paul Ryan canceled a planned vote on the measure.

Republicans are still reeling from the CBO's initial estimate that found their plan would leave 24 million people uninsured over 10 years. The scorekeeper’s latest analysis leaves that estimate unchanged.

CBO did acknowledge that slightly fewer people would lose Medicaid coverage because of a change that would boost federal dollars for coverage for elderly and disabled beneficiaries. But the agency said that other Medicaid changes “would offset some of those effects.”

The decrease in savings is likely to draw fire from fiscal conservatives, without appeasing more moderate Republicans worried about millions of people losing their coverage.And none of the deficit reduction will kick in until after President Donald Trump’s first term in office. In fact,the GOP’s bill will add $104.7 billion to the deficit through 2020, according to CBO.

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The costliest changes would come from repealing Obamacare’s taxes one year earlier — a total of $137 billion over a decade. The Medicaid changes would cost $41 billion over a decade.

House Republicans had planned to take up their health care bill Thursday, but that vote was scuttled after a last-minute


Trump slams 'disastrous' Obamacare, urges passage of repeal


President Donald Trump's statement came after the president failed to strike a deal with members of the House Freedom Caucus on the GOP's health care plan to replace Obamacare. | AP Photo


Schumer prepared to force nuclear showdown over Gorsuch

Chuck Schumer is prepared to push the Senate into a nuclear confrontation over the Supreme Court.

In an extensive interview with POLITICO Thursday, the Senate minority leader made his most definitive statement to date that Democrats will deny Neil Gorsuch the 60 votes he needs to clear a Senate filibuster and ascend to the Supreme Court. Dismissing the notion of a deal to confirm Gorsuch floated by some members of his caucus this week, Schumer all but declared that Donald Trump's nominee will not receive the requisite eight Democratic votes — and that it will be up to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as to whether to try to blow up the filibuster to get Gorsuch through.

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“There’s been an almost seismic shift in the caucus [against Gorsuch]," Schumer said as the Senate Judiciary confirmation hearings wrapped up Thursday. "He did not win anybody over with his testimony.”

If Schumer stops Gorsuch during a filibuster vote in early April — and the New Yorker was brimming with confidence that he will — it will almost certainly force McConnell’s hand on the so-called nuclear option. Schumer is betting McConnell does not have the votes to do away with the 60-vote requirement for Supreme Court nominees.

“I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that Mitch McConnell changes the rules,” Schumer said. “There are people in his caucus who really don't want to change the rules, OK?”

Blocking Gorsuch would be a major win for the left. Liberal activists have been urging Schumer to do everything in his power to stop Trump's pick, even as Senate Democrats have struggled to mount a case against him.

But a battle that potentially brings about the end of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees would further erode the Senate's character as the more deliberative chamber of the legislative branch. And it would have dramatic consequences for both political parties.

Supreme Court selections would no longer need bipartisan buy-in, possibly resulting in more ideologically extreme justices. And in general, the two parties in the Senate would have one less occasion to cooperate. The partisan food fight over Trump's Cabinet nominees — facilitated by Democrats' move to eliminate the filibuster for those votes in 2013 — offered a possible preview.

While longtime Republicans hope to avoid a rules change, they're ready to respond to Schumer by gutting the filibuster if that's what it takes. McConnell himself has guaranteed Gorsuch’s confirmation. He has explicitly declined to rule out changing the rules via a party-line vote, also known as the "nuclear option."

Schumer said the “onus” will be on McConnell if the filibuster is further diluted. The majority leader's office declined to comment for this story.

McConnell can lose only two members on a vote to alter Senate rules. Some of the Republicans long thought to be most resistant to such a move sound increasingly likely to back their leader in such a showdown.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has vowed to do “whatever it takes” to get Gorsuch


Trump demands Friday vote on health care plan

If the House rejects the GOP plan, the president says, Obamacare will stay.

By Rachael Bade , Kyle Cheney and Josh Dawsey

03/23/17 11:58 AM EDT

Updated 03/23/17 05:46 PM EDT

UPDATE: 7:42 p.m.: President Donald Trump is demanding a vote Friday in the House on the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said. If the bill fails, Trump is prepared to move on and leave Obamacare in place, Mulvaney said.


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President Donald Trump and House Freedom Caucus members failed to strike a deal on the GOP Obamacare replacement Thursday, endangering the prospects of passage and all but assuring any immediate vote on the measure would fail.

Hours later, House leaders canceled a planned Thursday night vote on the legislation, dubbed the American Health Care Act. There was no immediate word when a vote might be rescheduled. The House Republican Conference is planning to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday about how to proceed, with procedural votes expected later in the evening.

Negotiations between Trump and the arch-conservatives opponents of the bill reached at least a temporary impasse after Freedom Caucus members were told recent concessions from the White House and GOP leadership represented a final offer. The group rejected that, wanting more.

The setbacks triggered a series of meetings later Thursday — between Trump and the moderate Tuesday Group, and separately between the Freedom Caucus and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

As it stands, Trump and Ryan find themselves playing see-saw with moderates and hard-liners. Lean too much toward one faction and they lose votes from the other. So far, they've been unable to find a sweet spot.

Ryan can afford to lose only 22 votes on the floor. The Freedom Caucus has three dozen members, who have vowed to block the bill unless they get what they want. More than a dozen centrist Republicans have also come out against the bill, further endangering its prospects.

A senior administration official in the room for the meeting at the White House said most members left the meeting as "no's" but suggest some flipped to "yes." While Trump did not go around the room and ask people how they would vote, it became immediately clear GOP leaders did not appear to win over enough members to put the measure over the top.

"We're down right now," the official said.

Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told reporters in the Capitol Thursday afternoon that "we have not gotten enougbh of our members to get to yes at this point. … However, I would say progress is being made." He called Trump's engagement in the negotiations perhaps "unparalleled in the history of our country."

A senior administration official involved in discussions with the group, however, said the "House Freedom Caucus is freeing members to vote their conscience."

There were daunting obstacles to a deal heading into the White House meeting Thursday morning. A number of Freedom Caucus members had suggested Trump’s latest concession

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