Updated at 4pm EDT on July 18.
Seven years after the US health insurance bill now known as Obamacare passed, Senate Republicans engaged in a desperate, last-ditch effort to destroy it on Tuesday—and were quickly undone by dissent in their own party.
The Republican’s plan would have yanked insurance from more than 30 million Americans, with no replacement plan necessary for two years, and could cause premiums to double for millions more. Many of these Republicans were only proposing exactly what they promised voters they would do when they were elected.
The US Senate will vote in “coming days” to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without any replacement, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell promised Tuesday morning, essentially taking up a bill that passed the Senate in 2015, but was vetoed by president Barack Obama.
Republican senators quickly nixed that idea, though. In 2015, Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois were the only Republicans to vote against the bill. But by Tuesday afternoon, West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito had said she couldn’t vote for a full repeal; Rob Portman, the Ohio senator, had said he thought it could “add to more uncertainty” and make things more expensive for Ohio residents; and Lisa Murkowski, the Alaskan Republican, said she was against appealing without a replacement.
With at least two senators besides Collins defecting, the Senate is expected to give up on repealing Obamacare entirely.
If the Senate doesn’t deliver, US president Donald Trump said Tuesday he plans to “let Obamacare fail” because “it will be a lot easier.”
“We’re not going to own it,” Trump said, referring possibly to the fallout from the insurance plan’s failure. “I’m not going to own it. I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it.”
Trump may be wrong about that. While Republicans took the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and the presidency in 2016 thanks in part to their opposition to Obamacare, US voters seem to have had a change of heart since November. After lengthy attempts to repeal and replace the legislation in the House this year, a majority of Americans for the first time said they approved of the act in an April Gallup poll.
Both the libertarian and small government advocates who have tried to kill Obamacare for years, and the Democrats and health-care activists who support it were flooding Congress phone lines with calls and planning protests and demonstrations on Tuesday. “This is a moment of reckoning for the Republicans who have been pushing this for the better part of a decade,” said one staffer with a libertarian think tank. “There will be a ton of pressure from activists and constituents to not be a fraud.”
Trump’s involvement in the process was unclear. He spent the last few days at one of his golf resorts, then held an intimate steak dinner for a group of Republican senators on Monday night, all of whom were already in favor of a less drastic Senate healthcare bill. He was reportedly blindsided when two Republicans who weren’t invited said they wouldn’t vote for the Senate’s earlier bill.