WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican finger-pointing commenced after the Senate's dark-of-night defeat of the GOP's flagship effort to repeal much of the Obama health care law in a startling vote that dealt a blistering blow to President Donald Trump.
"3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down," Trump tweeted early Friday after GOP leaders failed to patch party divisions and the Senate rejected a last-ditch bill to keep the effort alive. "As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!"
The "skinny repeal" bill—erasing several parts of President Barack Obama's law—was rejected just before 2 a.m. EST on a vote of 51-49. All Democrats were joined by GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and the ailing John McCain. The 80-year-old Arizona senator made a dramatic return to the Capitol Tuesday after being diagnosed with brain cancer to cast a decisive procedural vote that for a time had advanced the legislation.
Following rejection of two broader GOP repeal plans earlier in the week, the early Friday vote cast doubt on whether divided Senate Republicans can advance any health bill despite seven years of promises to repeal "Obamacare."
The measure that was defeated Friday would have repealed an Obama mandate that most people get health insurance and would have suspended a requirement that larger companies offer coverage to their employees. It would have also suspended a tax on medical devices and denied federal payments to Planned Parenthood for a year.
"This is clearly a disappointing moment," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, said. "I regret that our efforts were not enough this time."
"It's time to move on," he said. McConnell put the health bill on hold and announced that the Senate would move onto other legislation next week.
Conservative Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., who's running for a vacant Senate seat, suggested it was time for McConnell to relinquish his post.
"If they're going to quit, well then by golly, maybe they ought to start at the top with Mitch McConnell leaving his position and letting somebody new, somebody bold, somebody conservative take the reins," Brooks said on CNN. He added, "How is he going to get the job done on the rest of President Trump's agenda?"
McCain, in an impassioned speech the day he returned, had called for bipartisanship on major issues of national concern, and a return to the "regular order" of legislating by committee.
On Twitter, McCain said the repeal bill "fell short of our promise to repeal & replace Obamacare w/ meaningful reform."
The amendment was a last resort for Senate Republicans to pass something—anything—to trigger negotiations with the House.
"It's time to turn the page," said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York. "We are not celebrating. We are relieved."
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said in a statement that the Trump administration would pursue its health care goals through regulation. "This effort will continue," Price said. But insurers, hospitals, doctors, and consumer groups are pressing the administration to guarantee billions of dollars in disputed subsidies to help stabilize insurance markets around the country.
Buoyed by a signal from House Speaker Paul Ryan, McConnell had introduced a pared-down health care bill late Thursday that he hoped would keep alive Republican ambitions to repeal "Obamacare."
The Congressional Budget Office said the measure would have increased the number of uninsured people by 16 million, the same problem that vexed all the "repeal and replace" measures Republicans have offered. Obama's law extended coverage to some 20 million people, reducing the nation's uninsured rate to a historic low of around 9 percent.
Still, Ryan, R-Wis., had seemingly opened a path for McConnell earlier Thursday by signaling a willingness to negotiate a more comprehensive bill with the Senate. Some Republican senators had been concerned that the House would simply pass McConnell's "skinny bill" and send it to Trump. That would have sent a shock wave through health insurance markets, spiking premiums.
Ryan sent senators a statement saying that if "moving forward" requires talks with the Senate, the House would be "willing" to do so. But shortly afterward, his words received varied responses from three GOP senators who'd insisted on a clear commitment from Ryan.
"Not sufficient," said McCain.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who'd been another holdout, turned around after Ryan assured him and others in a phone conversation that the House would hold talks with the Senate.
Opponents mobilized quickly against McConnell's trimmed-down bill.
The insurance company lobby, America's Health Insurance Plans, wrote to Senate leaders Thursday saying that ending Obama's requirement that people buy insurance without strengthening insurance markets would produce "higher premiums, fewer choices for consumers and fewer people covered next year."
And a bipartisan group of governors including John Kasich of Ohio and Brian Sandoval of Nevada also announced against it. So did the American Medical Association.
Numerous polls had shown little public support for the GOP's earlier proposals to repeal and replace Obama's law. A recent AP-NORC poll found only 22 percent of the public backing the Republican approach, while 51 percent were opposed.