President Trump on Monday prodded Republican holdouts to live up to their campaign promises as the Senate GOP hurtled toward a showdown over their seven-year push to kill Obamacare.
An initial vote is slated for Tuesday on whether to begin debate on the repeal bill that passed the House earlier this year. If successful, that vote would launch a freewheeling floor fight where senators would be free to offer their own plans.
“Any senator who votes against starting debate is telling America that you are fine with the Obamacare nightmare,” Mr. Trump said at the White House.
Republican leaders acknowledged late Monday they have a narrow path to success. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t even said which alternative to Obamacare will lead the amendment process.
Some Republicans want to replace the Affordable Care Act with the bill Mr. McConnell crafted in recent weeks. That version repeals the mandate requiring people to hold insurance and replaces Obamacare’s subsidies with less generous tax credits, while reining in President Obama’s vast expansion of Medicaid.
Others want to revive a 2015 plan that would gut the law within two years, buying time for a sweeping replacement. Mr. Obama vetoed an identical bill, but Mr. Trump said he would sign it.
Still others want to let states keep Obamacare or opt into a more conservative model, or just let states take the money they would receive under the 2010 law and decide what to do with it.
GOP leaders and Mr. Trump say senators should begin debating the bill and push for changes on the floor.
“The only way we’ll have the opportunity to consider ideas is if Senators are allowed to offer and debate them. That means voting to begin the open amendment process,” Mr. McConnell said. “That means voting to kick off a robust debate in which Senators from all parties can represent the views of their constituents. It means voting to proceed.”
Senate Democrats said Republicans are rushing a vote.
“We are potentially one or two days away from a vote on a bill that would reorganize one sixth of the American economy, impacting tens of millions of American lives — and no one knows what it is! It’s sort of like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ around here,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, imploring Republicans to start over on bipartisan fixes to Obamacare’s ailing markets.
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, said he won’t support beginning the debate unless GOP leaders commit to allowing a vote on the 2015 repeal bill.
A series of other senators haven’t staked out a position, heightening the drama 24 hours before the vote.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona gave the motion’s prospects a potential boost by announcing he will return to work after surgery for a blood cot and a shocking cancer diagnosis.
“Senator McCain looks forward to returning to the United States Senate tomorrow to continue working on important legislation, including health care reform, the National Defense Authorization Act, and new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea,” his office said late Monday.
With Democrats uniformly opposed, Republican leaders cannot afford more than two defections from their 52-seat GOP majority on the motion to proceed to debate.
Activists on either side of the debate prepared for battle.
More than 7,000 Catholic nuns — led by Sister Simone Campbell, who advocated for passage of Obamacare — sent a letter to Senate leaders Monday imploring them to reject the bill, while a separate coalition of religious leaders said they planned to march a coffin from a D.C. church to Mr. McConnell’s office Tuesday morning.
Conservative pressure groups pushed from the other side, saying failure to proceed onto the bill would result in a bipartisan push to shore up Obamacare’s ailing markets.
“Failure is not an option. For seven years, Republicans promised the American people that they would do everything in their power to dismantle Obamacare,” said Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham. “Every single Republican should vote yes tomorrow.”
Sen. Rob Portman illustrated the squeeze that some moderate holdouts are feeling.
The Ohio Republican was among senators who met privately with GOP leaders in Mr. McConnell’s office, hours after his home-state governor, Republican John Kasich, told senators to start over on a less partisan bill.
“The American people will come out on the losing end if Senate Republicans try to force through a new health care proposal with no bipartisanship, transparency or open dialogue,” said Mr. Kasich, who ran against Mr. Trump in the 2016 primary.