- Associated Press - Friday, July 14, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Sen. John Cornyn says he expects to hold together the minimum number of Senate Republican votes necessary to advance a GOP-backed health care overhaul but acknowledged Friday, “It’s going to be a nail-biter.”

As Senate majority whip, Cornyn’s job is to wrangle votes. During an interview with The Associated Press while in Austin, Cornyn said he was on the phone continuously, discussing the issue with GOP colleagues.

“What we’re trying to do is work with each of the senators individually that have questions and concerns about what the impact will be on their states and to satisfy their concerns,” said Cornyn, whose cellphone rang during the interview with what he said was another senator calling to talk health care. “But I’m optimistic that we’ll get there.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a revamped version of the plan to repeal and replace much of President Barack Obama’s health care law on Thursday. Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Kentucky’s Rand Paul said they’d vote “no.” Because of uniform Democratic opposition, the bill will need the remaining 50 Republican votes to advance - and there still may be hold-outs.

Cornyn said he expects to have the 50 votes needed to start debate “Tuesday night or Wednesday at the latest.” He said of Republicans: “I just don’t think we have any other choice.”

“I think this is not something that we can put off forever. We’ve been debating this for seven years and at some point you just have to make a decision,” he said. “The biggest, I think, burden that we bear is that we promised that we would do this. And so we need to keep our promises.”

Cornyn called the health care law “probably the most difficult piece of legislation we’ve ever had to deal with” since he arrived in the Senate in 2003.

“It’s going to be nail-biter, no question,” he said, adding: “I think everybody’s kind of wondering how this is going to happen and, as I’ve said, I just don’t think we have any alternative.”

President Donald Trump on Friday was lobbying Republicans hard to support the Senate bill. Cornyn said he and other senators would be visiting the White House on Monday and, “I can tell you, they are very engaged, the vice president and the president.”

“I think it’s fair to say they haven’t been down in the weeds on the details,” he said “but now that we’re getting ready to vote, I think that their support, and their involvement, is essential.”

The new version of the bill contains language demanded by Texas’ conservative junior senator, Ted Cruz. It lets insurers sell plans with minimal coverage, as long as they also offer policies that meet strict coverage requirements set by Obama’s 2010 statute. That prompted Cruz to say he’ll support the overhaul after initially opposing it - but moderate Republicans have objected that the change would make policies excessively costly for people with serious illnesses because healthy people would flock to the cheaper coverage.

Cruz attended a series of Texas town halls last week and occasionally debated hecklers supporting the Obama administration health law. Like a lot of his Republican colleagues, though, Cornyn has largely avoided such gatherings lately.

“I enjoy interacting with my constituents,” he said. “But I don’t really see the benefit of just going to a meeting where people just yell at you.”

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