The White House has also been increasingly engaged in the whip process — and hasn’t given up on Collins and Paul either. Paul has spoken to Trump about health care recently, while Collins has heard from Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus.
The Trump administration’s top Medicaid official, Seema Verma, spent the weekend trying to persuade governors and senators that those changes will blunt the reductions in Medicaid spending and the phase-out of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion under the “Better Care Reconciliation Act.”
“BCRA includes the funding states need to provide healthcare freedom and choices for people whose only option under ACA was Medicaid,” Verma said in a statement Sunday.
Yet those additions have not yet garnered the support of 50 votes to even start debate on the bill and have not convinced wavering GOP governors like Brian Sandoval of Nevada, who is advising Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) on the bill. Heller is the most vulnerable GOP senator up for reelection next year and his opposition to the previous version helped delay last month’s vote.
“I am struggling to validate the numbers that are being presented to me by the administration versus what I’m hearing from independent [experts],” said Sandoval at a governors’ conference in Rhode Island.
Cruz signed on to the latest version after his amendment was included, but a number of Republicans remain undecided on voting to advance the legislation, including: Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mike Lee of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Jeff Flake of Arizona, McCain and Heller.
Moderate Republicans still worry about the Medicaid cuts, while conservatives complain that not enough of Obamacare would be dismantled. And any major changes to the bill to mollify critics could squeeze out votes on the right or in the center.
In his weekend address, President Donald Trump insisted that things were moving his way: “We are very, very close to ending this healthcare nightmare. We are so close.”
Paul and other conservatives — and occasionally the president himself — have suggested that the GOP should move back to a repeal of the health care law and then figure out the replacement later if McConnell’s latest draft falls flat.
But such a plan almost certainly cannot pass the Senate, despite being supported by almost all GOP lawmakers just two years ago.
On “Fox News Sunday,” Michael Needham, president of the conservative Heritage Action for America, estimated there are 20 votes at most for full repeal of Obamacare.
“The Republican Party wasn’t serious about repealing,” Needham said.
While McConnell and his leadership team hunt for votes this week on health care, action on the floor will focus on other, potentially less controversial issues.
The Senate may consider an extension of Food and Drug Administration user fees as well as lower level nominees while McCain is out, according to Republicans. The Senate may also try to raise the debt ceiling; Trump administration officials have urged Congress to extend the government’s borrowing limit by the end of this month. A massive defense policy bill is also possible, though the absence of McCain, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, makes that less likely.
McConnell canceled two weeks of the August recess last week as GOP senators grew antsy at the swelling workload. That leaves the Kentucky Republican the option of bringing up the health care bill in August if McCain is able to return and they can find the votes to pass it.
Jennifer Haberkorn and Rachana Pradhan contributed to this report.