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Repeal & Replace Watch

Postcard From Capitol Hill: Doubts, Dissent Over Health Bill Rescue July Fourth Holiday

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks while flanked by Senate Democrats holding photos of people who would lose their health coverage under the Senate Republicans health care bill during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on June 27. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

WHEN Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell broke the news Tuesday afternoon, all the nervous buildup around the Senate health care bill vanished faster than a sticky, summer day in Washington, D.C., after a thunderstorm. Could McConnell really push the bill through the Senate before senators left town for the holiday? How many senators were balking now? Those and other questions disappeared — for now — when McConnell announced the Better Care Reconciliation Act would get no floor vote until after July 4.

GOP senators were just leaving their Tuesday afternoon policy lunch about 2 p.m. ET as word about a delay circulated before McConnell confirmed it. Many wanted nothing to do with the sea of reporters that waited outside the room where the senators meet for lunch. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) slipped quickly into an elevator, taking no questions. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) — head down, shoulders hunched — practically sprinted past microphones into the Senate chamber.

ONE of the few who stopped to talk was Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who expressed hope that a bill would get through the Senate and the House before the August recess. Reporters showered him with attention.

Once Republican leadership emerged to explain why the vote was being delayed, they defaulted to a familiar script: bashing the Affordable Care Act. “The schedule may have changed a little bit, but one thing that hasn’t is that Obamacare is collapsing,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the Republican Conference chairman. McConnell told reporters the delay wasn’t an indictment of the bill, but the outcome of more discussions and senators asking for more time. “It’s complicated,” he said.

MINORITY Leader Chuck Schumer, looking visibly annoyed that reporters were still in a scrum around Thune and not at his mic, said Democrats aren’t counting the delay as a victory. “No matter what tweaks they may add in the next week and a half, no matter how the bill changes around the edges, it is fundamentally flawed at the center,” he said.

LATER in the afternoon, three dozen or so people stood on the grass outside the Capitol, chanting, banging drums, delivering speeches and waving signs that read, “AHCA=Death” and “Survival of the Richest.” The group represented LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS advocacy groups. Though their tone was happy and elevated in the wake of the health care bill vote’s delay, it wasn’t victorious. “We got complacent with the House bill,” one speaker said. Organizers announced phone banks and letter-writing campaigns every week in opposition to the Senate proposal.

THEY say a picture is worth a thousand words and Senate Democrats tried out that advice in a media photo op on the Capitol steps early Tuesday afternoon. About two dozen senators held foam posters decorated with large photos of constituents who had reported they would be hurt by Trumpcare. What the cameras didn’t show were the posters’ back sides, where the name of the senator who was supposed to be holding that poster was written in marker. Many also had their constituent’s story printed out and taped on the back. As each senator left the second floor of the Capitol building to descend the stairs to waiting cameras, staffers handed out the posters and quickly prepped their bosses, almost like stage parents reminding a child how to perform a dance routine before a recital. As one lawmaker darted through the double doors to join the others, a staffer handed him his poster and said, “Here’s your constituent, senator, isn’t she a beauty?”

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