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With Two More Defections Tabling Health Care Bill, What's Next For GOP?


The Republican health care bill has been dealt a blow in the Senate tonight. GOP Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas announced they would not support it a short time ago. Without their votes, the bill cannot pass. Moran said in a statement, quote, "we must now start fresh with an open legislative process." For more, we turn to Domenico Montanaro, NPR political editor. Hey there, Domenico.


CORNISH: OK, so already we had walked out of this weekend saying, look; this vote is probably going to be delayed because John McCain, Republican of Arizona, is having a surgery (laughter), which means he'd be out recouping. And, like, the vote margin was so tight, that alone had delayed things, right?

MONTANARO: Absolutely. John McCain meant that Republicans had to delay the health care vote because Republicans only have 52 senators. They could only afford to lose two because then Mike Pence would come in to break the tie - the vice president. And that's because Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky had already said that they were hard noes.

So one more senator that came out meant that this thing would fail. And tonight, two more came out. That could mean even more. And that imperils the bill completely and means that it is in all likelihood dead.

CORNISH: Now, for context - Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate - Rand Paul of Kentucky, not so much. They had very different reasons for disliking this bill. Help us understand the reasoning behind Lee and Moran. Where do they fall on this spectrum?

MONTANARO: Well, Mike Lee and Moran are conservative. And Lee and Paul definitely line up in that sort of libertarian-Tea Party wing - Susan Collins a very different, kind of more traditionalist, moderate, Northeastern Republican, the kind of - the likes of which we don't see very much of - but have enough power with these two factions within their own party to gum up the system and not be able to get anything done.

And we should be clear, Audie. This is a major defeat for all Republicans involved. President Trump, whose approval rating now stands lower than any recent president this early in their term, is now staring at an agenda that's imperiled. You know, he's boasted that he's gotten more done than anyone, and that's just not true. And he's gotten little of anything of any significance through this Congress, and that failure is now compounded by the fact that his own party controls both chambers.

And Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell - this is a major blow to him as well. He's been hailed for all of his senatorial maneuverability, but he doesn't appear - you know, that doesn't appear so enviable today. He showed he could stop President Obama. He could manipulate the rules to deny a president of a different party. But he has not showed the ability to control his caucus in order to govern the way past great Senate leaders have.

If he wants to be considered in that category, he has to do what most great legislators do. That's work with the other side, or come up with ways to pass things with your own party in big enough majorities to get - to identify a problem and get something done for the American people.

CORNISH: Right. So in the meantime, the Affordable Care Act, or otherwise known as Obamacare, is still the law of the land, correct?

MONTANARO: As Paul Ryan had said before the failure of the House health version - health care bill until they went back and decided to go and rewrite the bill. Now, this is already the second draft of this Senate bill, so it's very difficult to see how they will come back to this. And we should be very clear that this means that the Republican agenda is stalled. They're going to need those extra couple of days and weeks in the August recess frankly to think about how they're going to approach this. A big priority of Mitch McConnell's was to get tax reform done. Of course President Trump wants to move on to infrastructure as well after tax reform. Tax reform hasn't been done in 30 years. This doesn't make it any easier.

CORNISH: That's NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro talking about the Senate health care bill which is effectively done for now. Domenico, thanks so much.

MONTANARO: It's always fun, Audie. Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEACH HOUSE SONG, "LAZULI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.