By Scott Wong, Jessie Hellmann, Mike Lillis and Cristina Marcos - 03-23-17 21:16 PM EDT
Donald Trump is done being nice.
The president on Thursday night gave an ultimatum to House conservatives, telling them he'll leave ObamaCare in place unless they get on board with White House-backed legislation to repeal and replace the seven-year-old healthcare law.
At a dramatic closed-door House GOP conference meeting, Trump's budget director, Mick Mulvaney, delivered the message to rank-and-file Republicans: After weeks of talks, Trump is done negotiating the bill and wants a vote on Friday, according to a source in the room.
The House had been set to vote Thursday on the American Health Care Act (ACHA), but the vote was delayed after Trump and leadership couldn't corral the necessary 215 GOP votes.
If the vote fails Friday, Mulvaney warned, Trump will move on to other priorities like tax reform, and ObamaCare will stay as the law of the land.
Mulvaney attended the Thursday night meeting in the basement of the Capitol along with White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and top Trump aides Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway.
But Mulvaney was the messenger. That's because Mulvaney, the Tea Party favorite from South Carolina, was a co-founder of the far-right House Freedom Caucus that Trump and GOP leaders believe is standing in the way of passage.
The Trump officials didn't stay long. Shortly after delivering the message, Mulvaney, Priebus and Bannon stormed out of the room. Asked what their message was, Bannon told The Hill: "Vote."
Once the White House officials left, several House members lined up to speak at the microphones to rally support for passage. Freshman Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.), an Army veteran who lost his legs in the Afghanistan war, called on his colleagues to come together to defeat ObamaCare.
"I'd like to think I know a little something about battle," Mast said as the room erupted in a standing ovation, sources in the room said.
"This was almost like one of those classic scenes in football movies where they kick the coaches out and the players start talking with one another. It might as well been 'Remember the Titans,' " said longtime Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.).
"This is about the members. This is about the team players This isn't about the coaches," he said. "This is about whether we can play together and win."
Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a close Trump ally, confirmed the Trump administration's message after the meeting.
"There are no more negotiations," Collins told reporters. "We have to have a vote tomorrow. He expects it to pass, but he's moving on if for some reason it didn't."
The developments set up a likely vote on the rule on Friday morning and a vote on the measure later that afternoon.
Dozens of centrist and conservative Republicans have vowed to oppose the bill, putting them in direct conflict with their new president.
With all House Democrats expected to vote against the bill, the GOP can afford only 22 defections.
Freedom Caucus leaders, including Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), have been demanding additional changes to the health bill, specifically the repeal of ObamaCare's 10 essential health benefits and ObamaCare's Title 1 regulations. Those regulations include the rule that bans insurers from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions.
These changes, conservatives argue, will lower premium costs.
But Trump has only been willing to offer repeal of the essential health benefits, which includes maternity care, pediatric services, hospitalization and prescription drugs, among other things.
An amendment will be released Thursday night that would repeal the essential health benefits and also add $15 billion to the AHCA's Patient and State Stability Fund. The $15 billion will go toward mental health and maternity coverage, which will be paid for by keeping ObamaCare's 0.9 percent Medicare tax on high earners for six years.
But the effect of the Trump ultimatum on the vote remains to be seen. Many of the critics of the bill said they're still opposed, including Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), who heads the Tuesday Group of centrist Republicans.
Meadows said the roughly 40-member Freedom Caucus would hold an emergency meeting Thursday night to digest what transpired in the meeting, but added: "I'm still a no."
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said the inclusion of repealing ObamaCare's minimum insurance coverage requirements - at the Freedom Caucus's request - wasn't enough to win his vote.
But he also said lawmakers were so energized by Thursday night's meeting, he doubts the bill will fail.
"I'm rather brokenhearted right now," Gohmert told The Hill.
"There's too many federal aspects to this that remain in place that appear to make it pretty well certain it's going to be here for the rest of this country's life. That means I can't get there."
Failure of the bill on the House floor would be a humiliation for GOP leaders, raising questions about their ability to govern effectively given that they control the White House and both chambers of Congress.
Trump himself has said for months that the safest course for the Republicans, politically, would be to do nothing and let ObamaCare collapse on itself.
And many Republicans on Capitol Hill feel the same way.
"Politically, the smart thing for us to do would be to just say, 'OK, we won't do anything, we'll just let ObamaCare fail. If we think it's imploding ... then let it implode.' And then we'll step in and rescue [it]," said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), a supporter of the bill.
"That would be the politically smart thing to do," he added. "It's not the right thing to do, though."
After huddling with rank-and-file members, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) went to the microphones in the Capitol basement, where he made a brief statement. He did not make any predictions about the fate of the bill.
"For seven-and-a-half years, we have been promising the American people that we will repeal and replace this broken law, because it's collapsing and it's failing families," Ryan said. "And tomorrow we're proceeding."
- This story was updated at 10:25 p.m.