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Delayed vote a setback for Trump the dealmaker

“The closer,” it turns out, needs extra innings.

After a frenetic 48 hours of Oval Office lobbying sessions, closed-door talks in the Cabinet room and shuttle diplomacy on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, President Donald Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the plug Thursday on a scheduled vote on their health care legislation after falling short of the support needed for passage.

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Conservative House hardliners would not budge on their demanded concessions. Moderate Republicans grew skittish of the new proposed changes. And, as the morning turned to afternoon without an accord on final legislative language, Republicans fretted about the optics of jamming the far-reaching bill through in the middle of the night.

The White House had pushed aggressively to hold the vote Thursday. Trump, who has staked his reputation as a consummate dealmaker on getting the bill through, was telling reporters "today the House is voting to repeal and replace the disaster known as Obamacare" minutes before House leadership canceled the vote.

But he was clear that he was struggling to get his fellow Republicans to yes.

"I'm not going to make it too long, because I have to get votes," Trump told a group of truckers who were at the White House Thursday afternoon. "I don't want to spend too much time with you. I'm going to lose by one vote and then I'm going to blame the truckers."

The final straw for a Thursday deal was a lengthy White House meeting between Trump, his top lieutenants and the hardliner House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservatives who have pushed to strip requirements that insurance companies provide standard benefits such as maternity care in coverage plans.

They couldn’t reach a deal, forcing the White House into a one-by-one effort to turn votes that one senior administration official described as “grinding.”

“Member by member, that’s how they're going to vote," said White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Thursday, a day after describing the president as “the closer.”

Most Republicans appeared comfortable with the delay, taking the lumps of a single negative news cycle, so long as the legislation eventually passes. But some worried that if Trump can’t muscle the first major bill he’s backed through a single chamber in a Republican-controlled Congress, it could devastate his agenda and weaken his authority moving forward.

“This is a reputational deal,” said Scott Reed, the chief strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “We have a lot riding on this.”

“It's a black eye for the speaker and the president if it doesn't pass,” Reed added. Failure would be “buzzkill in terms of moving forward with a real reform agenda to grow the economy.”

Negotiations on the bill were expected to continue into the night on Thursday. A floor vote could still happen as early as Friday.

The Tuesday Group, a bloc of Republican moderates, met with Trump on Thursday evening. While the Tuesday Group is smaller than the Freedom Caucus, its members have historically proved far more likely

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Trump, Ryan scramble to save health care bill after vote canceled

The president made what he called a final offer, and the Freedom Caucus rejected it.

By Rachael Bade , Kyle Cheney and Josh Dawsey

03/23/17 11:58 AM EDT

Updated 03/23/17 05:46 PM EDT

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.

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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 — repealing Obamacare's mandate that insurance plans provide a minimum level of "essential" benefits — wasn't enough. The group wants a complete repeal of all Affordable Care Act regulations — including popular provisions Trump promised he would maintain.

The conservatives' target list encompasses a prohibition against discriminating

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White House gets out ahead of health care blame game: ‘We can’t make people vote’

The White House continues to voice confidence that the embattled Obamacare repeal bill will pass the House — but wants to make sure you don’t go blaming President Donald Trump if it doesn’t.

The prospect of failure grew Thursday afternoon when a planned evening vote was postponed, a stark indication that Republicans have yet to find the votes to push the long-promised legislation over the top.

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Soon after Trump concluded a meeting with the hardline House Freedom Caucus earlier on Thursday — one that resulted in “no deal,” according to the group’s chairman — press secretary Sean Spicer strode to the White House podium to update the nation on the most consequential day of Trump’s nascent presidency so far. On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, Republican leaders continued to hunt for the necessary votes to push the bill to passage.

The vote will happen tonight, Spicer predicted. There is no backup plan, he insisted. And the result, he said, would be a victory for the deal-maker-in-chief.

Shortly after the briefing ended, news broke on the Hill that the vote would be delayed.

“It’s gonna pass, so that’s it,” Spicer declared during his briefing. It was the type of bravado Trump and his White House are known for, and they have shown before that they can back it up, from their polls-defying confidence in an election win and some of the presidency’s early fights. Spicer, for example, expressed “100 percent” confidence that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would make it through the Senate even after two Republicans bailed, and sure enough she survived an unprecedented vote that required Vice President Mike Pence to break the tie.

But when faced with the prospect of the bill’s failure, and whether Trump should take responsibility if the American Health Care Act goes down in flames, Spicer’s confidence seemed to waver.

“Let’s get to the vote tonight,” Spicer said. “I think the president has done a phenomenal job. There’s no question, I think, when you look at the effort that he’s put in, the number of meetings that he’s had and the changes that have been [made] to the bill, there’s no question how hard the president and his team, the vice president, have worked to get this done.”

“At the end of the day,” he added quickly, “we can’t force somebody to vote.”

He praised Trump’s negotiating skills and argued momentum was in the bill’s favor, and even seemed to levy something of a dare to fellow Republicans who may be considering defying the president.

“The president’s made very clear that Republicans in particular have made a commitment to constituents, to the American people, that if given the opportunity to have a Republican president, a Republican Senate and a Republican House, that they would enact repeal and replace,” he said. “He believes, as he mentioned during when he met with the House conference, as he mentioned when he met with members of the Freedom Caucus today, and I think in several meetings, that this

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The Bathroom Bill That Ate North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. — On a 200-mile drive from the state capital to Kings Mountain, a tiny town where the Charlotte suburbs fade into the Appalachian foothills, state Rep. Chuck McGrady told House Speaker Tim Moore, one of the most powerful Republicans in North Carolina, not to do it.

“We shouldn’t go down this road,” McGrady told Moore just over a year ago, as he gave his fellow legislator a lift home from a session while Moore’s car was in the shop. The warning came days after Charlotte’s City Council passed an ordinance that allowed transgender people to use the bathroom of their choosing. At the time, Moore was “trying to figure out what they might do” in response, McGrady said. “I told him, ‘Let’s take our time with this.’”

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But Moore, who declined to be interviewed for this story, didn’t take McGrady’s advice. In a one-day special session last March, the Republican-controlled supermajority passed House Bill 2, effectively banning legal protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and requiring North Carolinians to use the bathroom assigned by their birth certificate in public places.

The backlash was swift, redefining North Carolina in the year that has elapsed since the bill’s passage, as critics and lawsuits have taken aim at what opponents view as an overly broad law that mandates discrimination against the LGBT community. The NBA relocated its All-Star game, while a long list of big businesses , like Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Dow Chemical, demanded a repeal. Forbes estimated the state had suffered $630 million in losses as of last fall. And the repercussions show little signs of easing after a year marred by boycotts, partisan rancor and finger-pointing— nearly two-thirds of North Carolina voters say they would rather eliminate HB2’s negative economic impact over enforcing the law.

In November, voters had their say on HB2—and the message they sent was … not at all clear. They booted Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who had vigorously defended HB2, out of office and elected Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat who ran on repealing it, by a razor-thin margin. They also reelected Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who wrapped himself in HB2 and won more votes statewide than Cooper or even Donald Trump, who carried the state easily. Republicans also maintained their supermajority in the General Assembly.

All of which helps explain why, despite the polls, despite Cooper’s commitment to tossing out the law, despite the Republican leadership’s willingness to cut a deal, despite the unrelenting pressure from the business community, HB2 is still there. And after months of abandoned compromises to address the law, it’s become harder to distinguish good-faith efforts from political theater. Walking along the cinder block hallways of the state legislative building in recent days, I found the HB2 mess hangs over legislators like a cloud.

“Frustration, depression, anxiety, exasperation—it’s all that and more,” said state Rep. Ken Goodman, a moderate Democrat from eastern North Carolina, sighing heavily after each noun. “It

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Thursday vote on health care bill canceled

mark_meadows_ap_1160.jpg

Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, talks to the media Thursday after meeting with President Donald Trump about the health care bill. | AP Photo

The president made what he called a final offer, and arch-conservatives rejected it.

By Rachael Bade and Josh Dawsey

03/23/17 11:58 AM EDT

Updated 03/23/17 03:30 PM EDT

President Donald Trump and conservative 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. There was no immediate word when a vote might occur.

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Negotiations between Trump and the arch-conservatives opponents of the bill reached at least a temporary standstill after Freedom Caucus members were told recent concessions to the far-right represented a final offer. The group rejected that, wanting more.

Trump's inability to clinch an agreement means that Speaker Paul Ryan does not likely have the votes needed to pass the measure. The Wisconsin Republican can afford to lose only 22 votes on the floor. The House Freedom Caucus, however, has three dozen members, who have vowed to block the bill unless they get what they want. Roughly a dozen centrist Republicans also have come out against the bill.

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.

Before the Thursday vote was scrapped, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said at his daily briefing that “nothing leads me to believe that” the vote would be put off. He expressed optimism after Trump's meeting with the Freedom Caucus that Republicans will ultimately round up the votes.

"We walked out with more members in support of the American Health Care Act today than we started the day with,” Spicer said. “And I continue to see that number climb hour by hour. And I anticipate that we will get there.”

A spokesman for Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) tweeted after the White House gathering that there's "no deal yet, but negotiations haven't stopped — Rep. Meadows remains hopeful and will continue working."

However, a senior administration official involved in discussions with the group 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 — repealing Obamacare's mandate that insurance plans provide a minimum level of "essential" benefits — wasn't enough. The group wants a complete repeal of all Affordable Care Act regulations — including popular provisions

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