The GOP Has a Nuclear Option on Health Care

Rick Klein and Shushannah Walshe: “Want to really blow up the Senate – and fast? A new proposal is emerging that would likely do just that, and it has nothing to do with Senate Democrats’ vow to filibuster Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. A proposal is being pushed by some Senate Republicans that would seek to ensure that a House-passed bill could be passed intact by only a simple majority of senators.”

“How would that work? Well, the vice president, of course, is the president of the Senate. The thinking goes that if the Senate parliamentarian ruled that parts of the bill can’t be folded into budget reconciliation, Vice President Mike Pence could simply overrule that. Sen. Rand Paul wants the White House to make that commitment now: ‘That alone, I think, would break the logjam,’ he told reporters Thursday. Perhaps, but that’s not all it would break. This would be the executive branch’s changing the rules of the upper legislative body. Filibusters could be broken, perhaps in any circumstance, at the whim of the vice president. In honor of a certain former veep, that would be a BFD.”

Is Steve Bannon Sabotaging the Health Bill?

Gabriel Sherman: “The failure to repeal and replace Obamacare would be a stinging defeat for Trump. But it would be an even bigger defeat for Paul Ryan, who has all but staked his Speakership on passing this bill. And in the hall of mirrors that is Washington, the big winner to emerge out of the health-care debacle could be Steve Bannon. That’s because Bannon has been waging war against Ryan for years. For Bannon, Ryan is the embodiment of the ‘globalist-corporatist’ Republican elite. A failed bill would be Bannon’s best chance yet to topple Ryan and advance his nationalist-populist economic agenda.”

“Publicly, Bannon has been working to help the bill pass. But privately he’s talked it down in recent days. According to a source close to the White House, Bannon said that he’s unhappy with the Ryan bill because it ‘doesn’t drive down costs’ and was ‘written by the insurance industry.’ While the bill strips away many of Obamacare’s provisions, it does not go as far as Bannon would wish to ‘deconstruct the administrative state’ in the realm of health care. Furthermore, Bannon has been distancing himself from the bill to insulate himself from political fallout of it failing. He’s told people that Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn — a West Wing rival — has run point on it.”

Do Senate Republicans Want This Bill to Pass?

First Read: “Don’t miss what Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, tweeted last night: ‘FYI: The Byrd Rule is actually a law.’ Translation for those unfamiliar with Senate arcana: The legislation that House Republicans are trying to pass probably don’t meet the rules that can avoid a Senate filibuster.”

“Think about it, Cornyn is warning his House colleagues that this legislation can’t pass the Senate. And that’s precisely what Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) stated earlier this month: ‘I would say to my friends in the House of Representatives with whom I serve, ‘Do not walk the plank and vote for a bill that cannot pass the Senate and then have to face the consequences of that vote.'”

The Final Minutes Before the Vote Will Be Interesting

Playbook: “If it looks like this bill is going to fail, expect a LOT of people to vote no at the last minute. If you have a district where parts of the Affordable Care Act are at least somewhat popular, why would you walk the plank for something that will fail in the House and go nowhere in the Senate? Just ask House Democrats how that worked out for them on cap and trade.”

A senior White House aide, asked if a decisive health care defeat was best for Team Trump, tells John Harwood: “100 percent.”

Can Trump Roll the House Freedom Caucus?

Playbook: “There are signs in the Freedom Caucus that their bloc of ‘no’ votes is dwindling. They are expected to hold a bunch of members against the bill — but not nearly as many as they previously thought. Many of them huddled until late in the Capitol, trying to get their bearings and decide whether they really have the gumption to cross Trump. (Many of them don’t care about the president or his threats. Same goes for many of the moderates against the legislation.)”

“But some members of the conservative group who were opposed to the bill seem eager to please their president — despite their loud and staunch opposition. Watch what Freedom Caucus leader Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) does. If he votes yes, he’ll be seen as easy to roll. The Freedom Caucus drove a hard bargain. And yes, they’ve won some significant concessions. But if they flip, they’ll show they can be cowed just by the president walking away. That’s a good preview of his power, and a show in the shift of the dynamics in D.C.”

For members: A Make-or-Break Moment for the House Freedom Caucus

Quote of the Day

“In my district, right now there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what it is we’re doing, and once we get it done, then we can have the chance to really explain it.”

— Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), quoted in an interview on MSNBC on the GOP health care bill.

GOP Leaders Still Don’t Have Votes for Health Bill

David Nather: “Here’s the reality that President Trump and Republican leaders are facing: They want to repeal Obamacare, but not the popular parts of Obamacare. But to the most conservative Republicans, and their supporters, repeal means repeal — which includes everything, whether it’s popular or not.”

“That’s why Trump and GOP leaders haven’t been able to close the deal with the Freedom Caucus, and will have to try to steamroller them with today’s vote. It’s why they have the Koch brothers after them. And it’s why, barring a miraculous turnaround, they’re not getting any closer to a deal that can survive the Senate as well as the House.”

Jonathan Swan: “The GOP leadership’s view was that they’re still short on the vote count, and they wanted to be assured of 216 votes before putting it on the floor. They think if the bill comes to the floor with less than the required number, the vote will collapse on them. They say simply calling a vote is not going to cause the whip count to go up. Members don’t want to vote on something that will fail.”

The Hill counts 34 House Republicans still against the bill.

RNC Paid Intel Firm for Clinton Dirt

“As the general election was taking shape last summer, the Republican National Committee initiated a series of payments to a low-profile firm started by retired Central Intelligence Agency officers that worked closely with an ex-Russian spy,” Politico reports.

“The payments attracted attention in political and intelligence circles, largely because the Virginia-based firm, Hamilton Trading Group, had particular expertise in Russia, which was emerging as a major campaign issue at the time.”

Trump Has No Good Options on Health Care

Nate Silver: “Sometimes in a poker hand, you find yourself with no good choices. You’ve invested a lot of money in the pot. But then your opponent unexpectedly makes a large bet and you have a marginal hand. Your options — folding, calling and reraising (as a bluff) — are all money-losing plays. But you have to pick one of them, and it’s a matter of finding the least-worst outcome. It’s the situation every poker player hates the most.”

“President Trump finds himself in a similar predicament on health care, now that GOP leaders have announced they’re delaying a vote on the House GOP’s bill to repeal and replace Obamacare and seemingly have no clear plan to secure the votes for passage.”

Trump Regrets Moving on Health Care First

New York Times: “Mr. Trump has told four people close to him that he regrets going along with Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s plan to push a health care overhaul before unveiling a tax cut proposal more politically palatable to Republicans.”

“He said ruefully this week that he should have done tax reform first when it became clear that the quick-hit health care victory he had hoped for was not going to materialize on Thursday, the seventh anniversary of the act’s passage.”

Meanwhile, CNN reports Trump has “increasing concerns” about how Ryan has handled this process.