WASHINGTON — With only a few days left for Republicans to try one last time to repeal Obamacare, President Donald Trump on Wednesday stepped up the public pressure on GOP lawmakers to get behind the legislation — and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set a vote for next week.
The president targeted Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has already come out against the Graham-Cassidy bill, calling him a "negative force" on health care.
Rand Paul is a friend of mine but he is such a negative force when it comes to fixing healthcare. Graham-Cassidy Bill is GREAT! Ends Ocare!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 20, 2017
Trump then targeted all Republican senators, urging them to "fulfill their promise" to voters.
I hope Republican Senators will vote for Graham-Cassidy and fulfill their promise to Repeal & Replace ObamaCare. Money direct to States!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 20, 2017
Paul responded that Graham-Cassidy is "amnesty" for Obamacare and said he would work with Trump to put a full repeal in place.
#GrahamCassidy is amnesty for Obamacare. It keeps it, it does not repeal it. I will keep working with the President for real repeal.— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) September 20, 2017
Trump said after a meeting with Egypt President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at the United Nations that he thinks the Republican health care bill will pass, and he added that Obamacare is "failing badly."
"I thought that when I won, I would go to the Oval Office, sit down at my desk, and there would be a health care bill on my desk, to be honest," Trump added. "And it hasn't worked out that way. And I think a lot of Republicans are embarrassed by it."
Later Wednesday, the president addressed concerns by some that the legislation wouldn't cover those with preexisting conditions. Trump said it would and called Graham-Cassidy a "great bill."
I would not sign Graham-Cassidy if it did not include coverage of pre-existing conditions. It does! A great Bill. Repeal & Replace.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 20, 2017
With pressure ramping up on noncommittal Republicans to support the latest attempt at repealing Obamacare, McConnell announced that the Senate intends to vote on it next week. "It is the Leader's intention to consider Graham/Cassidy on the floor next week," a McConnell spokesperson emailed on Wednesday.
They don't have a lot of time. The Republicans can't act until Wednesday because they'll need to wait for Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., to return to Washington from his special election on Tuesday. And the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur begins at sundown Friday, leaving a short window.
Opponents are starting to gear up their opposition. Hillary Clinton urged her supporters to "stop" the bill and said "nothing is more important than saving the Affordable Care Act."
Even with the Senate out of session for Rosh Hashanah, a flurry of meetings have been taking place to convince critical Republicans to support Graham-Cassidy.
After Republicans failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act in August, Trump has taken out his frustration with them in both public appearances and on Twitter, a tactic that is having an impact. Republican leaders had no intention of bringing back health care, insisting they couldn't gather the support of 50 GOP senators to pass it, but after hearing from their base and donors, Republicans are making another push.
"Every Republican found out from our constituents that they were pretty upset with the fact that we did not follow through on what we've all been running on," Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., said. "I can only speak for the folks that I talked to in Wisconsin, but nobody blamed Trump for our failure in health care. Nobody."
It is part of an all-out White House push to pass the measure and give Trump a legislative win. Vice President Mike Pence joined Republicans for lunch on Tuesday where he and Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., told their colleagues that this might be the last chance.
Despite controlling the White House and Congress since January, Republicans haven't passed any major legislation. They are expressing a sense of urgency at getting something done. Graham said he has spoken to the president five times since Monday and that he's "focused like a laser."
"I do not want to go back to South Carolina and say that I did everything I could to repeal Obamacare and not believe it in my heart," Graham told reporters after the lunch.
Paul came out against the Graham-Cassidy legislation on Monday, saying that it doesn't do enough to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The bill doesn't repeal all of the taxes put in place under Obamacare.
"This is keeping Obamacare, redoing the formula to give Republican states more money," Paul told reporters on Monday. "I mean, that's as simple as it gets."
Paul is not the only Republican with concerns. Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and John McCain of Arizona have all said they aren't yet ready to support the bill.
After leaving a meeting with McConnell, Graham said he's optimistic about the passage of Graham-Cassidy.
"We're inside the five yard line, and we'll see what we can do to get into the end zone," Graham said, adding that he's "very interested in helping Alaska."
Alaska's mostly rural population faces some of the highest medical and coverage costs in the country, which gives Murkowski deep reservations about supporting legislation that reduces federal funding for health care and Medicaid.
Republican leaders can only afford to lose two Republicans for the bill to pass. They have a Sept. 30 deadline before the legislative vehicle being used to pass health care expires.