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Sen. McConnell's Plan B To Repeal Affordable Care Act Fails


What's emerging on Capitol Hill today is a portrait of a Republican party struggling to find a way to govern. So here's what happened in the last just 24 hours. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was hoping to vote on the Senate's revised health care bill this week. And then last night, he had to abandon that bill when two senators announced that they wouldn't support it. Now his plan is to repeal the Affordable Care Act now and figure out what to replace it with later. But it looks like he doesn't have the votes for that either. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us now to talk about the fallout over health care. Hello there, Sue.


CORNISH: So what's the calculus behind moving forward even when it seems like you don't have the votes to pass any of the things that you want?

DAVIS: You know, there are put up or shut up moments in life, Audie, and this is one for the United States Senate and Republicans in the Senate. McConnell is essentially asking Republicans to vote for something they've already voted for. This is a rehash of a 2015 vote in which every Republican senator except one - Susan Collins of Maine - voted to essentially repeal all of Obamacare and didn't offer much to replace it with. And one advocate of this strategy is Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. And this is what he had to say today.


RAND PAUL: If you voted for it a year and a half ago, you got a lot of explaining to do when you go home if you're going to vote differently this time. We ran four elections on repealing Obamacare. I think we can repeal Obamacare. It's not even a complete repeal. It's a partial repeal. So I think, yes, if you voted for it in 2015, you should vote for it again.

DAVIS: Two of those senators who did vote for it came out today and said they would not a second time around. That's Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. So once again, Republicans in a familiar place - they don't have the votes.

CORNISH: The thing is the first time around, all of these senators knew that it would be vetoed by President Obama, right? Not exactly high stakes.

DAVIS: Right. And, you know, Obamacare has embedded itself deeper in the nation since that vote in 2015. I talked to one of those senators who's now ready to vote no, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. And she is one of these senators who's saying, look, now is the time to find the bipartisan consensus on health care. This is what she said.

LISA MURKOWSKI: Republicans have to admit that some of the things in the ACA we actually liked. And the Democrats have to admit that some of the things that they voted for in the ACA are broken and need to be fixed.

DAVIS: You know, that kind of bipartisan consensus doesn't seem like it's going to happen right away. There are some early signs that things are going to move next in that direction. Lamar Alexander, who's a committee chairman, announced that he's going to start having hearings soon on what they can fix in the health care system.

CORNISH: All the reporting on this makes it sound like there's just a ton of infighting. What was the atmosphere on the Capitol today?

DAVIS: You know, I talked to a lot of Republicans. The word you hear a lot is they say they're disappointed. They did the best we could. But there's a lot of simmering tensions going on here beneath the surface, Audie. There is frustration between the conservative and moderate wings blaming each other for why this went down. There's frustration from some Republicans towards Mitch McConnell and how he put this bill together.

There's a lot of frustration at the president, that the - President Trump simply didn't do enough to build the public case for why Republicans should pass this bill. And there's also a lot of frustration from the grassroots. Already one of those groups, the Senate Conservative Fund, announced today they're going to try and find primary challengers for every Republican who votes no when McConnell brings this to the floor.

CORNISH: You mention the grassroots. How do Republicans plan to explain this failure - right? - something they promised their voters for so long when they go home?

DAVIS: This is the question that's going to dog the Republican Party through the midterms if they don't act on health care. McConnell today said they'll focus on what they have done and try to turn the page. Here's what he said.


MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, we have a new Supreme Court justice. We have 14 repeals of regulations. And we're only six months into it. Last time I looked, the Congress goes on for two years. We'll be moving on to comprehensive tax reform and to infrastructure. There's much work left to be done for the American people, and we're ready to tackle it.

DAVIS: In the very short term, the Senate's going to pivot away. They're going to try and pass a defense bill. They're going to try and raise the debt limit. And they're going to work on improving the nomination of incoming FBI Director Christopher Wray.

CORNISH: NPR's Sue Davis at the Capitol. Thank you.

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

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.