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Senate Republicans will delay a vote on their Obamacare replacement bill until after July 4, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday, as the party faces opposition from enough GOP members to block the measure.
The move marks a setback for the Kentucky Republican, who had hoped to win support to approve the bill this week before senators leave for the holiday recess.
"We're going to continue the discussions within our conference on the differences that we have that we're continuing to try to litigate. Consequently, we will not be on the bill this week, but we're still working toward getting at least 50 people in a comfortable place," McConnell said, adding that he is still "optimistic" about passing Obamacare replacement legislation.
As of Tuesday afternoon, five Republican senators — enough to block a procedural motion to move forward with the bill — said they would oppose the motion barring changes to the plan. A Congressional Budget Office score on Monday estimated that the proposal would lead to 22 million more uninsured Americans by 2026, only complicating matters for moderate GOP senators on the fence.
Republicans face difficulties in winning over skeptical senators, as tweaks to appease conservatives could alienate moderates, or vice versa. The hurdles threaten to delay a key plank of the sweeping agenda Republicans hoped to pass when President Donald Trump won the White House and the GOP held onto both chambers of Congress.
At a White House meeting with GOP senators later Tuesday, Trump shrugged off the delay and said "we're getting very close" to striking a deal despite the disagreements.
After the meeting, McConnell told reporters, "either Republicans will agree and change the status quo, or the markets will continue to collapse and we'll have to sit down with Senator Schumer." The Senate majority leader said he suspects the Republicans would not be able to get the reforms they want if they have to negotiate with the Democrats.
Trump tweeted Tuesday evening that the Republicans are working hard without support from the other side of the aisle.
GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a swing vote, said Monday night she would vote "no" on the motion to proceed, tweeting that the Senate bill does not "fix the flaws" of Obamacare. She joined Sen. Dean Heller, a vulnerable Nevada Republican who previously said he would vote against advancing the bill as written due to its rollback of Medicaid expansion.
On the conservative side, Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin also said they would not back a motion to proceed this week for the bill as written. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah also said he would oppose the procedural move barring tweaks to the bill, according to The Associated Press.
Those senators and Ted Cruz of Texas were the first to publicly announce opposition to the current bill. They argue that the plan does not go far enough to repeal Obamacare.
After meeting with Trump at the White House earlier Tuesday, Paul said in a tweet that the president is "open to making the bill better." He questioned whether "Senate leadership" was open to making what he calls improvements.
After the vote was delayed, three Republican senators — Jerry Moran of Kansas, Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia — announced opposition to the current bill. Portman and Capito were considered swing votes because their states have expanded Medicaid and are hotbeds in the U.S. opioid crisis.
The GOP could still win skeptical senators over with amendments. House Republicans did the same to gather more votes before the chamber narrowly passed its own Obamacare replacement last month.
The House GOP had to abruptly pull one form of its health-care bill from the floor in March when it became apparent that it would not get enough votes. But the chamber eventually passed the plan with tweaks.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday that he has "every expectation" the Senate will pass a health-care bill, adding, "I would not bet against Mitch McConnell."
After McConnell announced the delay, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said, "The fight is not over" and Democrats do not yet feel "any sense of accomplishment." He argued that the bill is "fundamentally flawed" regardless of the tweaks Republicans make.
Schumer said he would work with Republicans on fixing Obamacare's problems if it does not repeal parts of the law, roll back Medicaid expansion and cut taxes for wealthy Americans. He said he wanted a less secretive process, as well.
Asked earlier whether he expected to work with Democrats, McConnell said, "They're not interested in participating in this."
CBO: 22 million more people to lose insurance by 2026 under Senate health-care bill