The optics of delaying the health care reform

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," March 23, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


REP. BRADLEY BYRNE, R-ALA.: Are you for President Trump and repealing and replacing ObamaCare, or are you against President Trump and you are against repealing and replacing ObamaCare? It's that simple.

REP. MARK MEADOWS, R-N.C.: We need to read the bill and understand the bill fully before we take a vote on it. And so do I think it gives the president a loss? Absolutely not.

HOUSE MINORITY LEADER NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF.: To say we're going to bring up this bill on the same day as the seventh anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, rookie's error. Donald Trump may be a great negotiator. Rookie's error for bringing this up on a day where clearly you are not ready.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Well, they may be ready tomorrow. The vote now looks like it's heading to tomorrow but we don't know because they don't have enough yes votes. That's why they postponed this vote on repealing and replacing ObamaCare. This is the White House was pushing hard, trying to sound optimistic today from the podium.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He was on the phone last night well into the 11:00 hour with members on an individual basis discussing their support for the bill.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is there any plan if the bill does not pass?

SPICER: No, it's going to pass. So that's it.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: At this point, is there an acknowledgment that perhaps there does need to be a Plan B at this moment?

SPICER: No. Plan A.


BAIER: Plan A is now Plan A-plus. They are going to have a different A tomorrow.

Let's bring in our panel: Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist; A.B. Stoddard, associate editor at Real Clear Politics, and Chris Stirewalt, politics editor here at Fox News. OK, Mollie, they didn't have the votes. Can they have the votes? Is there so much pushback that there's not enough skin in the game for these people who are against this that they don't fear any fallback?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: The real problem is they have been rushing this. There's no need for that rush. And this doesn't need to be a failure for Trump. It doesn't need to be a failure for Republicans. What they have to do is repeal the law. The present bill or the previous iteration of the bill did not do that. And so if it takes them some time to work that out and fix it and do something other than keep the fundamental architecture of ObamaCare, they should take the time to do that.

BAIER: Can they get there tomorrow?

HEMINGWAY: That is a rush, and I don't know if they can. We'll have to see. It's good that they are taking their time and it's good to know that they don't have the votes and it's good to know that conservatives are able to make the case they don't want to push something through that isn't up to their standards. Whether we can get there tomorrow is another thing entirely.

BAIER: The more conservatives they get to sign on, the more moderates potentially they say goodbye to.

A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: So after all the criticism of the process the Democrats went through in 2009 and 2010, and there was a lot about it that should have been criticized. They passed a partisan bill that was a political catastrophe for the party. However, they spent a year doing hearings with the president selling across the country using specifics. They actually tried to reach out to some Republican senators along the way. Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, I do remember Mike Enzi, though they never came close to voting for it, but working with Chairman Baucus on this policy. There was more of a broad based effort here.

What's happening now is the definition of the Nancy Pelosi sentence that they pilloried all those years that we have to pass it to find out what's in it. They're trying to pass a really conservative bill that their moderates will vote against and that will fail in the Senate just because they need a win. So they have to pass it to get to a health care bill that they don't know what will look like.

So it is really at this point just all tactic and trying to get a W, trying to not fail on the House floor. But it's not a bill that they worked out with Republican senators that can pass the Senate and go to President Trump's desk.

BAIER: Here's the thing about process. We talk a lot about process in this town, and people in middle America kind of glaze over sometimes. But process is important in these cases because reconciliation is this vehicle that they get over to the Senate and enables the Senate to vote with 51 votes. But they can only use reconciliation a couple times in a year. And once you use it, it's like a gun that has been spent. The bullet is gone and you can't use it again.

CHRIS STIREWALT, FOX NEWS: So what made things extra super double complicated was that the Senate parliamentarian, who is the person who rules what you can do on this magic unicorn ride of reconciliation, this one shot that you have. The Senate parliamentarian apparently according to Philip Klein at The Washington Examiner, told Mike Lee you could probably gut ObamaCare on this. You could probably rip out these must-cover provisions, these massive regulations. You could probably do that.

So Mike Lee of course runs over to the House and says boys, we are cooking now. Now we can really do whatever we want. And this, to A.B.'s point, now you come back and Paul Ryan is in the position of this undercuts his argument where we can't give you what you want, he said, because reconciliation. Now they say maybe we can have it all, and you end up in a position where moderate Republicans who are in suburban districts where Donald Trump didn't do as well say we want off this buggy now. So the whole thing could go kablooey.

BAIER: So here is Mitch McConnell on this amendment process in the Senate.


SENATE MINORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: On the seventh anniversary of ObamaCare's enactment, Americans deserve a better way forward. And thankfully we finally have a Congress and a president who are committed to delivering much-needed reform. I look forward to the House passing that bill soon and we will look forward to taking it up in the Senate where there will be a robust amendment process.


BAIER: A robust amendment process, but possibly a robust de-rooting process of taking out the meat of the thing.

HEMINGWAY: There are a couple things here. One this is that the house could just pass whatever they need to do, get it over to the Senate and let the Senate take care and handle all the meat. That's what they are there for and they are really good at it. And that would be one way to have a win.

Another thing is I think this is actually something of a lifeline that was just provided to Paul Ryan, learning he had been telling people you cannot get rid of all these regulations. Now that he knows that he can, that gives him so much more flexibility. You have the Freedom Caucus willing to accept some of these tax subsidy issues if they can get deregulation. Deregulation also provides a lot of room for moderates to play with, so this might be the key to getting things going forward. If it doesn't happen in the next few days, though, they might just have to start all over from scratch.

BAIER: And just explain it again, they wanted to do it in three phases. The senators who say that they have a parliamentary trick potentially are trying to do it all in one.

STODDARD: That is what's so hard about taking a vote where you don't know where this is going. You don't know if there ever will be a Senate vote. You don't know if there is going to be second phase or a third phase. And you have senators of your own party saying don't die on this mountain. This thing is dead on arrival in our chamber. If you're a House member who is really conflicted, that's not a good place to be. And you heard Mark Meadows, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus talking, he goes we are trying to get to yes. There are about 30 or 40 no votes. It's a long way to tomorrow winning on the floor if you're looking to get rid of 30 or 40 no votes. And there is a recess coming up. They are going to face angry crowds at home. They really have to do this before April 7th.

BAIER: You know what's interesting is the angry crowds are not just Republicans. There are angry crowds for Democrats and they're facing those crowds as well. Just quickly, what does this mean for the Trump agenda as we watched this thing go towards this vote?

STIREWALT: It depends. If they would have brought it tonight and let the Freedom Caucus kill it, I think it wouldn't have been that big of a deal. The Republican conservatives say we did it, we killed it. Trump says we tried, they didn't want it. And then in a way you can start to move on and you can go to the tax reform that Trump cares about. This he obviously wants to pass but seems to care less about than the core of his economic agenda.

BAIER: Although he said it at every campaign rally.

STIREWALT: He did say all the words and he tried to sell it but it didn't take. Voters, the Quinnipiac poll out today, only 17 percent approve of the law. It's broadly unpopular, the bill, it's broadly unpopular. People don't know about it and they already don't like it. So the thing for Trump is, if this becomes a weeks-long ordeal to try to get this back on track and you're really doing all of this, you're going to see a lot of air go out of the balloon. I would say if it's going to fail, fail fast.

BAIER: But the track to the metaphor, it was going to be health care, tax reform, and infrastructure. Some of the tax reform numbers rely on the savings that you get from the first car which is health care. And they're going to have to find another vehicle to get them to the numbers they want on tax reform.

HEMINGWAY: I think they need to rethink the legislative strategy or they do need to just get something done. And I still think just passing a clean repeal bill with a little bit extra, moving it over to the Senate and letting them work out the details might be the easiest course of action.


STODDARD: Listen, politically, if they have a defeat, it's going to divide the arranged marriage of Trump and the House Republicans and the Senate Republicans even more. If there is a blame game where Trump doesn't get blamed but it is definitely Speaker Ryan's fault, that imperils tax reform as well. They're a team. They have to operate like one.

BAIER: We will follow it.

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