Interviews

Sen. Thune: Time to vote on GOP health care bill

South Dakota Republican says it's time to fish or cut bait on the Senate Republicans' version of health care reform

 

This is a rush transcript from "The Fox News Specialists," June 26, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: All right, we are just getting word out of the Capitol now that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is indicating on the Senate floor that it would be a roll of the dice to hold a vote right now on this thing, that the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare simply does not have the votes, in fact, might not have the votes just to continue a debate on that plan.

With us right now, one of the Republican leaders, South Dakota Republican John Thune. Of course, he is part of that leadership, working very closely behind the scenes to get us to where we are.

Senator, is that right that this is looking dicey?

SEN. JOHN THUNE, R-S.D.: Well, you have seen the reports, Neil, of members who have concerns about the bill.

CAVUTO: Right.

THUNE: But, again, I am one of them who thinks we need to move forward. I just think that the policy is not going to get better if we drag us out.

And the politics certainly is not going to get any better either. I think that we have had the debates. We have had over 30 meetings. We have had all the discussions. We have taken input. And at some point, it's time to fish or cut bait.

And so I think it's time to put this on the floor and vote on it, but we will see. Again, the leader ultimately makes the decision, and he will base his judgment on where the votes are.

CAVUTO: Would you anticipate, Senator, having a vote even if the votes are not there?

In other words, I know, in the House, typically, they check to see if the votes are there. And if they're not, Paul Ryan will shelve the vote. Not always the case with Mitch McConnell in the Senate, but what do you think?

THUNE: Well, I think that you want -- you would like to know going into the vote that the votes are there.

CAVUTO: Right.

THUNE: But I don't think we're going to know where the votes are until we have the vote.

I think, ultimately, a lot of people, when faced, Neil, with the juxtaposition of the status quo vs. an alternative that puts downward pressure on premiums, stabilizes the markets, preserves the protections for people with preexisting conditions, and makes Medicaid sustainable by giving states the flexibility to design programs that better fit their populations, these are big consequential wins, I think, in terms of moving health care in this country in a different and better direction.

So, it is all going to come down in the end to a function of math. You either have the votes or you don't. But I hope that we do, because for a lot of our members, a lot senators who are ultimately going to have to take this vote, that is the choice we are going to faced with, the status quo, which is on a failing, collapsing system, or a better way.

CAVUTO: Senator, it comes at a time when a lot of your fellow members are getting pressured just in the mainstream media about how awful you guys are.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: And I'm quoting Nancy Pelosi, Senator, who said: "We do know that many, many more people, hundreds of thousands of people," she said, "will die if this bill passes."

What did you think of that?

THUNE: That -- it's so over the top, Neil.

This crazy talk coming come out of Democrats is nothing more than scare tactics and fear-mongering. These are -- and any time you look at taking a federal government program -- and, of course, Democrats want to expand and grow government -- and put it on a more sustainable course or make it more efficient, you get this kind of reaction.

But that's just absolutely -- it's all over the top. It doesn't really even justify responding to. But that is what we're going to be dealing with throughout the course of week if, in fact, we bring this up on the floor. There's going to be a lot of that kind of rhetoric, and, obviously, a lot of amendments offered that we will have to dispose of.

But in the end, I hope we can get to a vote, because I think it's important for the American people that we change the course that we are on and do it sooner rather than later.

CAVUTO: All right, sooner for Senator McConnell, as you know, sir, has been before the July 4 recess. How doable, in your gut, is that?

THUNE: I still think that if you look at the statements that some of our senators, Republican senators, have made, there may be -- we can't lose more than two. There's very little margin for error.

CAVUTO: Right. Right.

THUNE: But I think most of our members want to get to yes. Most of our senators are looking for a way ultimately to be able to be for this, because they know the alternative is -- failure is not an option. We have just got to get this done.

CAVUTO: Senator, I spoke to Katrina Pierson, who used to be a top confidant of President Trump, still might be, for all I know.

But she was working with the idea of her independent group to launch a primary challenge to Nevada Republican Senator Dean Heller as a result of his opposition to this measure.

Do you think that's fair?

THUNE: I don't -- I would not advocate that.

I think that Senator Heller, obviously, like every senator, is taking a hard look at this, and looking at his own population and having to make a decision about whether he thinks this is the right course of action.

I think the best thing that we can be doing right now in terms of Republican leadership is talking to our members, trying to figure out, what does it take to get them to yes, and try and steer this thing.

I think, honestly, if I look at the policy, and I have listened to in over 30 meetings to members on both sides of this, I think we have sort of found the right balance. And this is a huge, consequential reform of an entitlement program. It is -- we are doing away with mandates. We're reducing taxes that were raised under Obamacare.

And we're going to put downward pressure on premiums. There's a lot of things in this legislation I think that are wins and that we ought to be able to get out there and talk about and defend.

But it affects everybody differently. And I know all of our senators are trying to grapple with and make what ultimately they think is the right decision for them and their constituents.

CAVUTO: Senator Thune, thank you for taking the time. We appreciate it.

THUNE: Thanks, Neil. Good being with you.

CAVUTO: All right.

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