Texas Republicans divided as health care overhaul hangs in the balance

President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of Congress in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 28, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Abby Livingston, The Texas Tribune

WASHINGTON (March 22, 2017)— U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions of Dallas had a long day Wednesday.

He set off a mild firestorm early in the morning in a CNN interview when he conceded his party needed to do a better job selling its replacement to President Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul and promised Americans they would be able to keep their current insurance plan and doctors. But those remarks were largely forgotten just hours later amid the continuing chaos surrounding the run-up toward a Thursday vote in the U.S. House. By nightfall, Sessions found himself sparring with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi over repeal in a marathon meeting of the House Rules Committee, which he chairs.

President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of Congress in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 28, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

In the dawn-to-dusk fight over repealing the law that served as a central campaign issue for Republicans over the past four election cycles, Pelosi’s troops were in lockstep behind her — all House Democrats oppose repeal. Instead, the fight is among Republicans; allies of House leadership are trying to pass the bill, while hardline conservatives, many of whom are members of a group called the Freedom Caucus, are trying to stymie it.

Many in Congress — including at least one Texas Republican House member who asked not to be named — predict that if the bill reaches the House floor Thursday, it will fail. Sources tell the Tribune that heading into Thursday, House leaders were working with a deficit of about five votes.

The fight consumed both the White House and the House of Representatives all day Wednesday. President Donald Trump and U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan used every carrot and stick at their disposal to convince Republicans to fall in line with their proposal. Some Republicans suggested the vote could go down to the wire, all the way to the House floor for the kind of in-the-moment arm-twisting that made former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay famous in his day.

As of Wednesday evening, 16 House Republicans from Texas backed the bill, three opposed it and six were either undecided or unclear in their positions. U.S. Rep. Randy Weber of Friendswood, a Freedom Caucus member, announced his opposition to the bill late Wednesday.

The most stunning moment among Texas Republicans came at the hand of a member of the party’s House leadership, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, who pulled his support for the bill and announced he was undecided.

All the drama in the House may be leading to an anticlimax in the Senate — even if the plan passes in its current form, hardly anyone thinks the bill will make it through the upper chamber. Many Republicans doubt repeal will even become law.

The political fallout of failure in the House could set off a conflagration between the two factions of the House GOP, including in Texas. Tea Party types say they are licking their chops to take out Republican incumbents in primaries with charges of selling out in support of “Obamacare lite.”

Meanwhile, those in the Republican establishment say they will charge rebels who might fight the bill into failure as essentially siding with Democrats to maintain the status quo of a law the entire party spent seven years campaigning against.

The countdown to a vote has raised several questions, the most prominent of which is: What happens if the bill fails?

The anonymous Texas House Republican forecasted political catastrophe: “I don’t know what happens then.”

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/03/22/texas-republicans-divided-health-care-overhaul-peril/.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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