By Jessie Hellmann and Jordain Carney - 07-18-17 12:51 PM EDT
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) says she will not support moving forward with a plan to repeal ObamaCare with a delayed replacement, effectively killing the latest legislative gambit from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Murkowski, who had balked at the last version of the ObamaCare bill, said she is a no on the motion to proceed to a repeal-only plan. She is the third Republican senator to take that position.
"No. I said back in January that if we're going to do a repeal there has to be a replacement. There's enough chaos and uncertainty already," she told reporters Tuesday.
With Murkowski's defection, GOP leaders do not have the votes to move forward to an ObamaCare repeal bill that passed the Senate in 2015, but was vetoed by then-President Obama.
Earlier Tuesday, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) also said they will not support moving to the repeal-only bill. Republicans can only afford two defections if Vice President Pence breaks a tie.
The quick pushback from moderates is raising fresh concerns about whether congressional Republicans will be able to make good on their years-long campaign pledge to repeal ObamaCare.
In his first on-camera remarks about the stalemate in the Senate, President Trump on Tuesday said that Republicans should now "let ObamaCare fail."
"I think we're probably in that position where we'll let ObamaCare fail," he said. "We're not going to own it. I'm not going to own it. I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We'll let ObamaCare fail and then the Democrats are going to come to us."
The White House in recent weeks had touted the idea of repealing ObamaCare and replacing it later, aligning the president with conservatives in both chambers of Congress who have urged that approach.
Conservatives fumed at centrists for balking at the repeal-only bill, noting that many of them voted for it just two years ago.
"I don't see how any Republican senator who voted just 18 months ago for this very piece of legislation could now flip-flop 18 months on with ObamaCare still inflicting so much harm on Americans, and the fact that we campaigned on this for four straight elections," Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday.
The 2015 ObamaCare repeal bill passed the Senate 52-47, with Collins and then-Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.) being the only Republicans to oppose it.
What happens next is unclear, with Republicans deeply divided over what to do and other pressing matters - including funding the government and raising the debt ceiling - looming on the agenda.
Some Republican senators are pushing to start over on the healthcare legislation by moving through the "regular order" of committee work.
Collins said she is urging Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate's Heath, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, to "begin to hold hearings to examine ways to fix the many flaws in the ACA so that it will work better for all Americans."
"We can't just hope that we will pass a replacement within the next two years. Repealing without a replacement would create great uncertainty for individuals who rely on the [Affordable Care Act] and cause further turmoil in the insurance markets," she said.
Senate Republicans are expected to discuss potential paths forward in a closed-door caucus lunch on Tuesday. They could force what would amount to a show vote on the House bill knowing that it would fail.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 GOP senator, said shortly before Murkowski's comments that they were still actively weighing when to try to hold a vote.
"I think we're trying to weigh that ... but it could be this week," he told reporters who asked if they needed to wait for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to recover from surgery and return to Washington.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 3 GOP senator, echoed that they were still negotiating but that he believed at some point the caucus needs to at least try to get on a bill.
McConnell has struggled for weeks to reach consensus on the elements of healthcare legislation. He has repeatedly huddled with both moderate and conservative senators in his office to try to craft a deal that everyone in his conference could live with.
Republicans had hoped a new version of the bill released last week could reach the floor, but those hopes were dashed Monday night when it became clear a procedural vote would not succeed.
McConnell on Tuesday pleaded with his members to continue working toward a healthcare vote.
"I believe we must continue to push forward now. I regret that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failures of ObamaCare will not be successful. That doesn't mean we should give up," he added from the Senate floor on Tuesday.
Capito, who voted for the 2015 repeal bill, on Tuesday said she has concerns about what would happen to her state's Medicaid expansion and combating opioid addiction.
"All of the Senate healthcare discussion drafts have failed to address these concerns adequately," the West Virginia senator said.
The 2015 measure guts ObamaCare by repealing authority for the federal government to run healthcare exchanges and scrapping subsidies to help people afford plans bought through those exchanges. It zeros out the penalties on individuals who do not buy insurance and employers who do not offer health insurance.
Crucially for moderate senators, the bill would end ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion in two years.
The Senate is expected to be in session until August 11, when members will leave town until early September.
But several GOP senators voiced concerns earlier this year about repealing ObamaCare without a replacement plan hashed out.
Repealing portions of ObamaCare without enacting a replacement could leave 18 million people without health insurance the following year, according to a report released by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in January.
After the elimination of ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion and insurance subsidies, 27 million people would lose insurance, and then 32 million by 2026, the CBO found.
- This story was updated at 1:39 p.m.