President Trump on Wednesday told Republican senators he doesn’t want Congress to leave Washington for the August recess until lawmakers pass a health care bill.
“Frankly, I don’t think we should leave town unless we have a health insurance plan, unless we can give our people great health care,” Trump said during a lunch with senators at the White House. “Because we’re close. We’re very close.”
Republican senators were invited to lunch with the president on Wednesday in the State Dining Room to discuss the stalled efforts to push through health care legislation in Congress.
The Senate Republicans' latest bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare collapsed Monday as more Republican senators announced their opposition to the specifics in the replacement. All Democrats were expected to oppose the bill.
In response, Trump initially called on Congress to just repeal the law now and figure out a replacement later, something Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is proceeding with.
But speaking to senators at the lunch, the president suggested he’d still like to see Congress repeal and replace the law simultaneously.
“We can repeal,” Trump said. “But we should repeal and replace. And we shouldn’t leave town until this is complete. Until this bill is on my desk. And until we all go over to the Oval Office. I’ll sign it and we can celebrate for the American people.”
After the meeting, McConnell said "we all agree it’s better to both repeal and replace. But we could have a vote on either.”
He also said the Senate will go ahead with plans to hold a procedural vote to repeal ObamaCare next week that would start debate on the bill.
In a pitch to senators who remain on the fence, McConnell argued “no harm is done” by voting for the procedural motion.
“We cannot keep the commitment we made to the American people to repeal and replace ObamaCare unless we get on the bill,” McConnell said. “So next week, we’ll be voting to get on the bill.”
The Republican leader said he has “every expectation that we’ll be able to get on the bill.”
But McConnell may not have the votes from Republicans for this effort either: West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Maine Sen. Susan Collins have all signaled they are against legislation that would repeal ObamaCare without offering a replacement.
Republicans have 52 seats in the Senate. McConnell can lose
only two Republican votes if all Democrats vote against the effort.
Speaking outside the West Wing, McConnell stressed that the bill “is totally open for amendment.”
The amendment process, however, is limited. Because the
legislation is being considered under what’s called budget reconciliation, amendments must only be fiscal in nature and not add to the deficit.
White House aides Reince Priebus, Kellyanne Conway, Marc Short and Stephen Miller joined the lunch, as did Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma.
The president sat next to Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican who is up for re-election next year and who has been facing pressure from both sides over his vote.
Ahead of the lunch, Trump tweeted: “I will be having lunch at the White House today with Republican Senators concerning healthcare. They MUST keep their promise to America!”
On Twitter, the president seemed to criticize his own party for not doing a good enough job selling the legislation.
“The Republicans never discuss how good their healthcare bill is, & it will get even better at lunchtime. The Dems scream death as OCare dies!” the president said.
Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.