President Donald Trump endorsed the House plan to replace Obamacare despite opposition signaled by key conservatives.
“We’re going to do something that’s great, and I am proud to support the replacement plan released by the House of Representatives,” Trump said at the White House on Tuesday after meeting with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and the House Republican whipping team.
Representatives from the White House, including Vice President Mike Pence, spent Tuesday defending the bill, trying to sooth conservative dissent by describing it as a “work in progress.”
Pence signaled that the administration was open to improvements to the bill but told conservative dissenters that “this is the bill.”
“If you like your Obamacare, you can keep it,” he said after the meeting, “but the American people want change.”
Heath and Human Services Secretary Tom Price briefed reporters on the bill at the White House on Tuesday, signaling that there was room for some negotiation.
“This is a work in progress, and we will work with the House and the Senate in this process,” he said. “Nothing focuses the mind like a bill that’s currently on the table.”
White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney met with members of the House Freedom Caucus on Tuesday night to discuss the bill, but many members left the meeting still voicing criticism.
“I don’t know that there is a bill at this point that has the necessary 218 votes to coalesce around, and so we got more work to do as the Freedom Caucus to come up with a solution,” Representative Mark Meadows, the chairman of the caucus told reporters.
Conservative groups Heritage Action, FreedomWorks, Club for Growth, and Americans for Prosperity also opposed the bill, urging conservative members of Congress to vote against the bill.
Price signaled that he was willing to work with those groups but reaffirmed that the House bill was very much in line with the administration’s priorities.
“We look forward to working with them and others to make certain that, again, we come up with that process that aligns with the principles that we’ve defined, that they actually adhere to or agree with, as well,” he said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan held a press conference on Tuesday evening to tamp down some of the dissent.
He said conservatives should be “excited” by the bill, arguing that it repealed Obamacare taxes, Obamacare spending, Obamacare mandates, and Obamacare subsidies. He also said that the bill ended funding for Planned Parenthood.
Ryan was optimistic that the House bill would get enough support to succeed in the House despite many House conservatives’ vows to vote against it.
“This is the beginning of the legislative process. We’ve got a few weeks. We’ll have 218 when this thing comes to the floor. I can guarantee you that,” Ryan said.
Conservatives like Sen. Rand Paul spent most of Tuesday calling the bill “Obamacare Lite,” arguing that it would not pass in Congress.
Paul called for Congress to pass a full repeal bill supported by Republicans in 2015. He claimed that there was still enough support to move it forward.
“Conservatives have a replacement plan. House leadership has a replacement plan,” Paul said. “Vote on all the replacement plans, and let’s see what happens.”
But Trump dismissed Paul, assuring that the Kentucky senator would eventually back the House Republican plan.
“I feel sure that my friend Rand Paul will come along with the new and great health care program because he knows Obamacare is a disaster!” Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday night.
Conservative Sen. Mike Lee also signaled his disgust with the bill.
“This is not the Obamacare repeal bill we’ve been waiting for. It is a missed opportunity and a step in the wrong direction,” he said in a statement to reporters.
Sen. Ted Cruz has not weighed in on the bill, citing the need to study it first.
“I am still studying the details of the bill,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
Cruz and his wife, Heidi, are scheduled to meet with Trump for dinner at the White House on Wednesday.