Politico

Freedom Caucus blasts Senate GOP's 'failure' to pass Obamacare repeal

Written by Lisa

House Freedom Caucus members lashed out Friday morning at the Senate’s dramatic failure to move forward on an Obamacare repeal bill, complaining that their colleagues on the other side of Capitol Hill let the American public down.

“Let’s be clear about what’s happened over the last 24 hours in the United States Senate. It was an abject failure of the United States Senate to do what America needs doing,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), a member of the conservative House group, told CNN’s “New Day” Friday morning. He urged his Senate colleagues not to leave for August recess without making progress on health care and suggested that perhaps a change in Senate Republican leadership might be in order.

“If they’re going to quit, well then by God, 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. “It’s not necessarily anything bad about Mitch McConnell himself personally, but he’s got a job to do, and if he can’t do it, then as ‘The Apprentice’ would say, you’re fired. Get somebody who can.”

McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate majority leader, and the rest of the GOP leadership team had worked furiously this week to shore up support for legislation that could advance the Republican goal of repealing and replacing Obamacare. After previous efforts at compromise failed to garner the necessary votes, Republicans settled early Friday morning on a “skinny repeal” intended to advance legislation out of the Senate such that negotiations on a final repeal bill could begin in a conference committee with House members.

But in a dramatic vote Friday morning, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joined with the Senate’s 48 Democrats in voting against the skinny repeal, defeating the measure and leaving Republicans without a clear path forward that does not include cutting a deal with the minority. It was McCain’s vote just after 1:30 a.m., cast with a dramatic thumbs-down gesture from the well of the Senate, that struck down the skinny repeal and sent an audible gasp through the chamber.

Brooks, in his interview with CNN, noted that House Republicans had successfully negotiated a compromise on health care, but not without “great gnashing of teeth” and “a lot of intense emotion.” He called the Senate’s Friday morning vote “a failure from the newest member Luther Strange at the bottom to the very top with Mitch McConnell as majority leader,” specifically name checking the Alabama senator whose seat he will attempt to take beginning with next month’s Republican primary.

Other GOP House members were similarly disappointed but sought to deliver an optimistic message that their party’s repeal-and-replace efforts were not dead. House Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), flanked by three other conservative members, said Friday morning on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” that the Senate vote was “certainly disappointing” and “not what we promised the American people” but that President Donald Trump had already begun reengaging on the issue.

Appearing with Meadows on Fox News was his predecessor as Freedom Caucus chairman, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who called for “a little bit of a shift in how we approach” health care. He said efforts by some Republicans in the House to force a vote on a so-called clean repeal that does not include a replacement would put pressure on the Senate to act.

“I’m optimistic we can still get it done. People are losing faith but I can tell you we are still staying in,” Meadows told “Fox & Friends, adding that he spoke with Trump by phone Friday morning after the vote.” “I can tell you who is staying in: the president is staying in on this fight. He is going to deliver. He made it clear this morning.”

Meadows and Jordan both expressed frustration that they and their House colleagues were likely to be sent home for August recess next month with health care left unfinished. Meadows told Fox News that “it blows my mind that we’re probably not going to be here in August.”

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), in his own “Fox & Friends” interview, said his vision for “transformational” health care reform would require the cooperation of at least some Democrats.

“If you’re going to fail, fail doing what you really fundamentally believe,” said Gowdy, who is not a member of the Freedom Caucus. “It’s not going to get done with 24 hour’s notice and a bill that has the word skinny in it. It’s hard to persuade people.”

Brooks suggested that a failure on healthcare could spell doom for much of the rest of the president’s ambitious conservative agenda, a list that includes an overhaul of the tax code, a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and a major infrastructure package. Health care was placed first in line, Brooks recalled, because an Obamacare repeal would make subsequent goals easier to attain. Without an undoing of former President Barack Obama’s signature legislation, Brooks asked, how will the rest of Trump’s agenda get done?

“Unquestionably the leadership at the top is responsible. The buck stops there. That’s why you take on that kind of responsibility,” he said. “And if Mitch Mcconnell cannot get the job done on this, how is he going to get the job done on the rest of President Trump’s agenda over the next three-and-a-half years. As I see it right now, this is a killer.”

Jake Lahut contributed to this report.

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