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House Republicans Pull Health Care Bill After Failing To Secure Votes

Mar 24, 2017
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We are back with NPR congressional correspondent Sue Davis, who's still on the line. Hey there again.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Kelly.

MCEVERS: And we also have White House correspondent Scott Horsley, too. Hi there, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

MCEVERS: Scott - Sue, we're going to start with you. Listening to this, what's your sense? Is a Republican replacement for Obamacare effectively dead at this point?

DAVIS: Yes.

MCEVERS: OK.

DAVIS: And this is a profound failure. This is a failure of policy for the speaker, who essentially was the driving intellectual force behind this legislation and could not get enough Republicans to agree what the policy should be to repeal and replace the law. It's a failure of leadership between Congress and the president, who control all levers of government and could not deliver. And that means it's a failure of politics.

This has been the singular unifying campaign promise for the Republican Party for the better part of the past decade. And what you heard from the speaker there was essentially we can't deliver on it, and we don't know if we ever will be able to.

MCEVERS: I guess the question is how did this happen? I mean, how did they not see this coming?

DAVIS: Well, I think they thought having a president in the White House would fundamentally change the attitudes of Republicans in Congress. If you've been paying attention to the past six years when Republicans have had the House, this is the same problem that leadership has had.

MCEVERS: Right.

DAVIS: The problem didn't change.

MCEVERS: Yeah.

DAVIS: They thought the problem would get better because there would be more unity in the Republican Party with a Republican in the White House. Today is proof that that is not the case and that House Speaker Paul Ryan does not appear to have a governing majority when it comes to tough issues.

MCEVERS: And, Scott, let's talk about that leadership in the White House. I mean, when congressional leaders are in a tough spot like this, they usually keep negotiating. But President Trump did not want to go that route. He said we're putting it to a vote and we're moving on. Why?

HORSLEY: Yeah. He really sort of forced this showdown today. And that's because Trump fancies himself a good negotiator. Part of his art of deal making, he would say, is knowing when to walk away.

So over the last two and a half weeks since the House Republicans introduced their bill, the president has been making a lot of phone calls. He's held a lot of meetings. He's tried to cut some deals with both the Freedom Caucus on the right and more moderate Republicans. But by last night, his spokesman Sean Spicer said the president had had enough.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SEAN SPICER: At some point, we either have a deal or we don't. And I think that's where the president finally drew the line and said we've been having this discussion, we've had the meetings. At some point, there's a political cost to dragging this out.

HORSLEY: So two and a half weeks, the president has now pulled the plug. And he made it clear to House Republicans this was their one and only shot at fulfilling their promise to repeal Obamacare. Since it's gone down, you heard the speaker say Obamacare remains the law of the land for the foreseeable future.

MCEVERS: Right. And we hear the president praising Speaker Ryan. We hear Speaker Ryan praising the president. But I guess a question for both of you is, you know, who gets the blame for this bill's failure in the end? We'll start with you, Scott.

HORSLEY: Well, look. The president certainly brought his marketing skills to bear in trying to push this bill through. But this was Paul Ryan's bill. The president did not get deep in the weeds in crafting this bill. And if you think back to the campaign, he always said he wanted to repeal Obamacare. But he never came up with a blueprint of what he would replace it with.

Instead, there was sort of this vaporware offer about something great. And it was left to Paul Ryan and his team to write the bill. And when the public took a look at it, a bill that leaves 24 million more people unemployed, it raises costs for older Americans and rural residents, a bill that gives a big tax break to the wealthy, the public said that's not what we're looking for. That's not what we were promised.

MCEVERS: Right. Sue, quickly, I mean, Paul Ryan, is he going to take the fall for this?

DAVIS: You know, I think that he will take some ideological blame. He is the ideas guy. He was the one that was supposed to come up with the plan. But politically, you know, you - Congress and Washington can't get this kind of big legislative stuff done without presidential leadership.

And the president also seemed to be ready to walk away from this fight, that he wants to move on. Whether they can move on and be successful after a failure of this magnitude is going to be one of the big questions as we go forward with his first 100 days.

MCEVERS: NPR congressional correspondent Sue Davis and White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Thanks to you both.

DAVIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.