President Trump issued a stern warning on Tuesday, telling Republicans they could lose their seats — and the House majority — in 2018 if they fail to repeal and replace ObamaCare, GOP sources said.
During a closed-door meeting in the basement of the Capitol, Trump told rank-and-file House Republicans if the party is not successful in passing its healthcare bill, “I believe many of you will lose in 2018,” according to a source in the room.
“He told us if we don’t pass this bill on Thursday, it will put everything in jeopardy that he wants to do, his agenda,” Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) told The Hill as he left the meeting.
The House is slated to vote on the American Health Care Act on Thursday. If it passes, it will head to the Senate, where it faces a tougher road.
Trump’s visit to Capitol Hill was billed as a rally for the healthcare bill, just two days before the historic vote to roll back President Obama’s signature domestic achievement. But the gathering took on a darker tone.
The president told lawmakers a failed vote would be embarrassing to the party and could result in members facing primary challengers and Republicans losing the House, sources said.
And Trump singled out Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a Trump ally during the presidential campaign who has vowed his conservative group has enough votes to block the legislation. As Trump addressed the chairman, Meadows stood up.
“I think Mark Meadows will get there too. … Because honestly, a loss is not acceptable, folks,” Trump told the Freedom Caucus chairman.
“Oh Mark, I’m coming after you,” Trump added, sparking laughter in the room. “I hope Mark will be with us in the end.”
Meadows’s face “turned pretty red,” said Rep, Mike Coffman (R-Colo.).
“Mark Meadows got slapped around big time,” quipped another GOP member, though many in the room took the Trump comments as simply good-natured ribbing.
As they left the meeting, both Meadows and another Freedom Caucus leader, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), said Trump’s appearance did little to sway their votes.
“I’m still a ‘no’ because the bill we’re currently considering does not lower premiums for the vast majority of Americans,” Meadows told reporters.
Trump, who received a pair of standing ovations as he entered the room, was accompanied to the meeting by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, both two former House members; as well as top aides Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway, Stephen Miller, Dan Scavino and Gary Cohn.
As he left the roughly hourlong meeting, Trump predicted victory.
“I think we’ll have a winner vote. We’re going to have a real winner,” the president told reporters. “It was a great meeting, these are terrific people and they want a tremendous healthcare plan and that’s what we have but there are going to be adjustments made but I think we’ll get the votes on Thursday.”
Trump’s appearance on the Hill came just a day after he and House GOP leaders made several last-minute adjustments to the bill designed to attract support from reluctant centrist and conservative Republicans.
Two of the changes Trump negotiated last week with the conservative Republican Study Committee made the cut: allowing states to require Medicaid recipients to show proof of work, and allowing states to choose a Medicaid block grant over the cap system.
The so-called manager’s amendment also included a change aimed at bringing on board several wavering New York Republicans. That New York-specific provision, authored by Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a close Trump ally, would shift Medicaid costs from local counties to the state of New York.
Coffman said it was important for members to hear from the president that the health bill is a priority for him.
But the Colorado congressman, a top Democratic target in 2018 who is “leaning yes” on the bill, acknowledged that Thursday’s vote will be a politically tough one.
“It’s always a fight,” he told reporters. “I think [my constituents are] concerned about the Medicaid expansion and what’s going to happen there. I think that’s the big concern.”
Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) was one of many GOP lawmakers who confirmed that Trump warned of severe electoral consequences if the House and Senate fail to pass the health care bill. He largely agreed with Trump’s assessment.
“If the bill fails, he feels like the Republicans could lose control of the House,” said Flores, the former chairman of the Republican Study Committee. “I think there’s some sentiment that that’s correct. Also he said the people who vote against it are likely to be primaried. I think he’s correct on that account as well.”
Asked about Trump’s threat to Republicans, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) pivoted and said passing the repeal-and-replacement bill was about fulfilling the central campaign promise of 2016.
“Everybody running for Congress in the House, everybody running for Senate, the president himself, said to the American people, ‘You give us this chance, this responsibility, this opportunity with a Republican president, with a Republican Senate, with a Republican House, and we will repeal and replace ObamaCare,’” Ryan said at a news conference after the meeting.