Vice President-elect Pence: Trump's first order of business is to repeal, replace Obamacare

Pence on Obamacare: The promises made were all broken
Pence on Obamacare: The promises made were all broken

The battle over repealing Obamacare began in earnest Wednesday with House Speaker Paul Ryan promising a replacement plan that won't leave anyone "caught with nothing" and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer saying a Republican repeal threatens to bring "chaos."

Vice President-elect Mike Pence and President Barack Obama both went to Capitol Hill to mobilize their forces.

Pence said the administration must "remind the American people what they already know about Obamacare, that the promises that were made were broken." He said the Trump administration's efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act will "literally begin on day one."

The vice president-elect said he expects Donald Trump to repeal existing executive orders and set forth new policies using executive action as soon as possible.

Schumer, D-N.Y., cautioned Republicans against "plain repeal," saying it would have an immediate impact, particularly on rural hospitals.

"Republicans will soon learn that you can't keep the good parts of the ACA and remove the rest of the law and still have it work. That's what they're struggling with. That's why they're not getting anywhere," Schumer said. "What they would do would throw the entire insurance marketplace into chaos, plain repeal."

While Democrats can hardly prevent the GOP repeal effort from proceeding, Obama and his congressional allies also met to discuss how to best defend the Affordable Care Act. The law extended health insurance coverage to 20 million Americans, and Obama considers it one of the proudest pillars of his legacy.

Ryan said, "The answer here is not to ignore the problem to keep some failed legacy." Both Ryan and Pence emphasized that when Republicans come up with an alternative to Obamacare, they will strive for an orderly transition to a new system.

"We've been saying all along, we don't want to pull the rug out from under people while we're replacing this law," Ryan said. "The point is, in 2017, we don't want people to be caught with nothing."

When asked whether there may be danger in repealing Obamacare before finding a suitable alternative, Ryan pushed back.

"We have a plan to replace it. We have plenty of ideas to replace it and you'll see as the weeks and months unfold what we're talking about replacing it with — how do we get better choices with lower prices by not having a costly government take over our health care, which is causing all of these problems in the first place," the Wisconsin Republican said.

But Republicans haven't committed yet to a concrete plan for a replacement, and it is not clear how such a plan could avoid big drops in the number of Americans with coverage without keeping several key parts of Obamacare — parts that many Republicans object to. Many health insurance experts warn that gutting the ACA while delaying crafting a replacement could lead to sharp coverage drops, even if the repeal is suspended for several years.

When asked Tuesday if the Trump team had a replacement plan in place, advisor Kellyanne Conway said, "We have pieces of it." She said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that the "ideal situation" would be if a replacement was passed at the same time that Obamacare was repealed.

"Let's see what happens practically," she added.

The Associated Press, and CNBC's Dan Mangan contributed to this report.