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Thursday vote on health care bill canceled

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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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Trump fails to strike health care deal with Freedom Caucus

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President Donald Trump will huddle with the arch-conservative House Freedom Caucus at the White House, just hours before Speaker Paul Ryan is set to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. | AP Photo

UPDATE 1:35 p.m.:

President Donald Trump failed to reach a deal with members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus to amend the Republican Obamacare replacement bill ahead of an expected vote later Thursday.

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Many lawmakers from the three-dozen-member caucus huddled at the White House with Trump and his senior leadership team, but they emerged without guaranteeing their support for the GOP bill. With little margin for defections and eroding support from moderates, House leaders need most Freedom Caucus members to support the bill.

Original story below:

President Donald Trump will engage in the most high-stakes negotiation of his young presidency Thursday, as he tries to sell hard-line conservatives on a GOP Obamacare replacement they despise.

Trump will huddle with the arch-conservative House Freedom Caucus at the White House, just hours before Speaker Paul Ryan is set to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

There were daunting obstacles to a deal heading into the decisive meeting.

A number of Freedom Caucus members have suggested Trump’s latest concession — repealing Obamacare's mandate that insurance plans provide a minimum level of "essential" benefits — isn’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 against people with pre-existing conditions and a requirement that adults up to age 26 can remain on their parents’ health insurance.

“Repealing [essential health benefits], w/out making other substantial changes, would make the bill worse, not better,” tweeted Freedom Caucus member Justin Amash (R-Mich.). “It would hurt the sickest people on exchanges.”

If Trump fails to clinch an agreement with the group, the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare will be all but dead.

Ryan (R-Wis.) can afford to lose only 22 votes on the floor. The House Freedom Caucus 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.

The Freedom Caucus has been a constant thorn in the side of House GOP leadership, sinking bills its members believe were too accommodating to Democrats. The group was expected to fall in line behind Trump after he won. Its refusal to do so on the health care bill has moved the legislation toward the far right.

But now, the Freedom Caucus has to decide whether it's truly willing to deliver a stinging defeat to the Republican president.

Many House Republicans are furious at the Freedom Caucus, saying the group keeps moving the goal posts, and they argue that the group really just wants to sink the health care bill altogether.

“The president is good at negotiating, but he has to have someone who wants to get to

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Trump's Obamacare repeal concessions likely can't pass Senate

Trump's Obamacare repeal concessions likely can't pass Senate

President Donald Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan are pushing the AHCA to the right, making it less likely to pass in the Senate. | AP Photo

President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan are considering throwing red meat at the right to push their Obamacare repeal bill through the House. But senators from both parties are signaling those conservative goodies will have a hard time surviving the Senate.

Democrats say they are certain they can kill any language in the repeal bill that erases Obamacare’s mandate for minimum benefits in insurance plans. And top Republicans are making no promise that the last-ditch changes to win over conservatives will fly in the more centrist Senate, which is beginning to write its own health care plan that’s likely to look far different from what the House is set to vote on Thursday night.

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“We’ll certainly try if the House sends it to us,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) in an interview. “I don’t think there are any guarantees in this process. The only guarantee is we’re going to do our best.”

Senate Republicans may simply oppose the effort to sweep aside requirements that health insurance plans cover items like mental health care and maternity care — not to mention another proposal being floated in the House to allow insurers to once again block people with pre-existing conditions from coverage and no longer allow young adults to stay on their parents’ health care plans. Those Obamacare provisions are popular among Senate Republicans and likely to remain in any final bill.

But parliamentary rules could be the bigger problem. The budget reconciliation procedure being used by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has strict rules that could kill language added by the House that does not have a direct budgetary effect. And that could ruin an attempt to pass a repeal on a simple majority, party-line vote.

In an interview, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a former chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said that the House is now indiscriminately rewriting its legislation with no regard for what can become law. Democrats are confident they can win the parliamentary battle on several key provisions in the repeal process.

“I’m pretty sure it will come out,” Murray said of the latest possible changes to the bill. “They are selling not only the wrong policy but they are selling the House Republicans something that isn’t ever going to see the light of day.”

It’s a process that cannot start in earnest until the House passes its repeal bill and the legislation is before the Senate, where Democrats and Republicans will haggle with parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough over what is acceptable under reconciliation — a critical “Byrd bath” process that will determine whether portions of the health care proposal will need 60 votes to survive.

“There’s only so much they can get through over there. And we’ll have to see what we can do,” said Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). “It has to

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House Rules to resume work on Obamacare repeal Thursday morning

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The House Rules Committee discusses the Republican health care bill on Capitol Hill on March 22. | AP Photo

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Nunes apologizes for going directly to White House with monitoring claims

Nancy Pelosi calls the Intelligence Committee chairman a 'stooge for the president of the United States.'

By Austin Wright and Nolan D. McCaskill

03/23/17 11:16 AM EDT

Updated 03/23/17 12:21 PM EDT

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes apologized to members of his panel Thursday for not informing Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat, before going public with allegations that Trump transition messages were inadvertently intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies.

A committee aide said that Nunes apologized "for not sharing information about the documents he saw with the minority before going public” and that “he pledged to work with them on this issue.”

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The apology from Nunes came as congressional Democrats on Thursday slammed him for his perceived allegiance to the Trump administration, questioning whether he is fit to lead to an impartial investigation into possible ties between Trump’s associates and Russian officials.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House intelligence panel, told NPR’s Steve Inskeep on Thursday that committee members still haven’t been privy to the information Nunes shared with the White House. Nunes has said he is not in possession of the information yet and that he hopes it will be delivered to his committee on Friday.

“At this point the only people who do know are the chairman and the president. And given that the president’s associates are the subject in part of the investigation, that’s wholly inappropriate, and, unfortunately, I think it really impugns the credibility of the chairman in terms of his ability to conduct an independent investigation,” Schiff said.

During an earlier, brief exchange with reporters Thursday morning, Nunes was asked if the information he alluded to Wednesday came from the White House. Nunes stressed that “we have to keep our sources and methods here very, very quiet” and defended his “judgment call” to brief the president while other committee members were left in the dark, despite Trump and his associates being part of the focus of multiple investigations.

“The president didn’t invite me over. I called down there and invited myself because I thought he needed to understand what I saw and that he needed to try to get that information because he has every right to see it,” Nunes told reporters.

Committee member Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said she believed Nunes' accusations on Wednesday had been directed by the White House. She pointed to an interview Trump did with Fox News earlier this month in which he said his administration would be "submitting things" to the House Intelligence Committee "very soon."

"I am of the opinion that this was orchestrated either from the White House or by ... someone associated with the White House," Speier said. "This is a three-act play, and we're now seeing it."

On Wednesday, Nunes held a news conference and then briefed Trump on evidence he had been shown by a "source" that, following November's election, Trump transition team members were caught up in incidental surveillance of foreign targets. He said the identities of

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