President Donald Trump, having lunch with Republican senators in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Tuesday, pushed the lawmakers to pass health care reform soon.
Trump, according to senators who attended, urged quick action on health care, casting the debate as a promise Republicans made to voters that needs to be kept.
“The message was that we need to get this done, it needs to be done right, but sooner is better than later,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, adding that Republicans can’t move to other aspects of their agenda before they pass reform.
Trump’s lunch included a number of more moderate Republicans, including Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, and conservatives like Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah.
Portman, Cruz, Lee and Toomey are all members of Senate Republicans’ working group on health care. Vice President Mike Pence, who has worked with Senate Republicans for weeks on health care, also joined the lunch.
Portman told reporters the group also discussed how to get insurers back in the marketplace quickly. And Collins said Trump was “receptive” to “suggestions” about cost-sharing reduction payments that lower deductibles and co-payments.
The Ohio Republican acknowledged the meeting didn’t appear to resolve any differences, but added “that wasn’t the purpose.”
One GOP Senate aide said there wasn’t a lot of substance in the meeting.
“I think the whole point of the meeting was just the television shot of Trump surrounded by Ernst and Murkowski,” the aide said.
The lawmakers specifically discussed structuring the bill differently than the House bill, Thune said, including ensuring the bill “protects people with pre-existing conditions” and using tax credits to “make the bill work for lower income, elderly people.”
“I think he realizes our bill is going to move probably from where the House was and he seems fine with that,” Thune said. “But I think he wants us to be able to do our work and he feels good about the progress that we’ve made. But he wants to get the job done.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, said Trump’s message during the meeting was “that we need to go forward.”
“I think he may have advanced the ball with some of my colleagues,” Hatch told reporters after leaving the White House.
The meeting, which brought together the eclectic group of Republican lawmakers, was organized to give the President a chance to check in on the process, not twist arms with the hope of striking a deal, a White House official said.
Referring to Obamacare as a “disaster,” Trump told reporters who briefly attended the meeting that the legislation he hopes to sign would be “phenomenal for the people of our country.”
“Generous, kind, with heart. That is what I am saying,” Trump said. “And that may be adding additional money into it. We are going to come out with a real bill, not Obamacare.”
Republicans currently face a do-or-die moment to pass a bill. Since the House passed Obamacare repeal earlier this year, Senate Republicans have been crafting their own repeal bill behind closed doors. Now, facing a deadline if they want to finish the legislation this summer, the Trump administration is looking to step up pressure on GOP senators.
“The House has passed a bill and now the Senate is working very, very hard,” Trump said Tuesday. “And I really appreciate what you are doing.”
Trump has so far largely left the Senate to do its work, remaining hands off through a difficult process. His legislative affairs team has been closely involved, but the President himself has been removed — by design, multiple aides on Capitol Hill said.
The President will likely accept whatever they come up with — “Pretty obviously (he’s) not a details guy,” one Republican aide said — but will eventually be called on to help rally support for the final product.
His call for more funding, though, could make it more difficult to sell the bill to House Republicans, who will meet with senators after a bill passes the Senate to reconcile the differences between the two legislative bodies.
Additionally, according to Senate rules, the bill passed through the body has to save $133 billion, the same amount of money as the House bill. That leaves Trump and Senate Republicans with little flexibility on spending. While they can spend more money on certain areas, they still have to hit the $133 billion marker to comply with Senate rules.
Trump will also meet with “Obamacare victims” on Tuesday when he travels to Wisconsin. Trump met earlier this month with families adversely impacted by growing Obamacare premiums in Ohio.
House Republicans “have done (their) job,” Trump said in Ohio, and “now it is the Senate’s turn to act, and again, I hope they are going to act in a very positive manner.”
“We’re keeping our promise to the American people,” Trump said Tuesday.
Time is of the essence. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is still targeting a vote before the July 4 recess, even if there are only 14 working days left.