WASHINGTON, D.C. — Vice President Mike Pence flew back to Capitol Hill for a few hours with Sen. Lindsey Graham on Tuesday, telling the on-board press pool reporter of the push for the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill from President Donald Trump, Pence, Graham, and Steve Bannon, among others.
Several times during a conversation between Pence, Graham, and the onboard press pool reporter, Pence and Graham referred to support for “federalism” in relation to the Obamacare adjustment bill.
Graham spoke of Breitbart News Executive Chairman Stephen K. Bannon, stating that he “ loves the idea of federalism.”
Pence said that President Trump is “a great believer in federalism.” The Vice President indicated that this fact moved the Trump Administration to spend the past six weeks “in discussions about the way forward, about [Graham’s and Cassidy’s] development of the bill” and have “provided administration resources to support their analysis.”
Pence also credited Sen. Bernie Sanders’ unveiling of a single-payer healthcare bill on the same day as “Graham-Cassidy, state-based innovation and federalism was unveiled” as a “useful coincidence.” Graham interjected that it was “a gift from God.” Pence continued that Trump sees the two as the choice facing America. Graham followed, “federalism versus socialism, you pick.”
Graham also said of President Trump.,“There’s a tenacity about the guy that I haven’t appreciated until now. He doesn’t want to lose.” Pence responded to Graham, “You’re learning.”
The Senator referred to a late night call from the president just the night before, during which Trump asked what he could “do to help.”
Pence stepped away briefly at one point to take a call from President Donald Trump, and press pool reporter Jonathan Swan of Axios asked Sen. Graham about his “bromance” with Breitbart Executive Chairman Stephen K. Bannon and their work to push the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill.
“OK, me and Darth Vader are now talking to each other,” replied Graham.
Pence Chief of Staff Nick Ayers piped up in light of Graham’s statement, “let the record reflect the Vice President has now left the room, because I have no clue what Lindsey Graham is about to say.”
Graham laughed and continued:
The Vice President doesn’t even know about this. So… Steve and I have our differences. But he loves the idea of federalism. He said, ‘This is the best idea I’ve heard in years, maybe not coming from the best guy I’ve known in years’…but he really has been very helpful in his world, of pointing out this is the best alternative to Obamacare that’s been put forward.
And so I’ve got Alan Greenspan, Jeb Bush, and Steve Bannon. If you can do better than that, call me.
Pence told the reporter that the Congressional Budget Office has promised to produce a CBO score on Graham-Cassidy by September 25.
Graham was also asked if Sen. John McCain would support the bill. McCain was a deciding vote to kill a skinny repeal of Obamacare recently, despite pleas from fellow Senators and even the Vice President himself.
“Mike Pence is bilingual. He speaks governor and he speaks Congress,” Graham told the reporter at one point of Pence’s work as liaison between the Trump Administration and other governmental bodies. The Senator praised Pence’s ability to bring argument for the bill to governors, the Vice President having formerly served as governor of Indiana.
Asked about Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Pence turned attention to his “very good discussions with Gov. Bill Walker of Alaska.” Asked about Sen. Joe Manchin, Pence said that President Trump has instructed him to reach across the aisle and that he had spoken with Manchin over the weekend, but wasn’t able to answer whether Manchin would vote for the bill.
Pence also told the reporter that the rush to pass some form of rollback of Obamacare includes “not only premiums going up, choices going down, but the IRS is now under law working on an enforcement plan to collect 2015 taxes under Obamacare’s employer mandate. This will hit more than 90,000 businesses with roughly $4.8 billion in penalties.” He said he would make the case that “this is the moment, now is the time. We have 12 days.”
After attending the Senate Republican Policy lunch, Pence tweeted:
— Vice President Pence (@VP) September 19, 2017
Pence headed straight back toward New York after the meeting to attend more UN General Assembly meetings there.
Follow Michelle Moons on Twitter @MichelleDiana