Trump pushes lawmakers on health care as divides build

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A general view of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington February 28, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Lawmakers returned from recess Monday morning to a clear message from President Donald Trump: Get to work on health care.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last week he was working on revising the bill, but said plan B was still on the table if Republicans couldn’t gather the necessary support. McConnell said that if the broader effort fails, he may turn to a smaller bill with quick help for insurers and consumers and negotiate with Democrats.

Meanwhile, multiple senators and even the president himself, have indicated support for repealing ObamaCare first and replacing at a later date.

Backing for the initial measure eroded during the weeklong July 4 break as many senators heard from constituents angry about the GOP bill and the prospect of rising premiums.

"We don't know what the plan is," said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., on Sunday. "Clearly, the draft plan is dead. Is the serious rewrite plan dead? I don't know."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said it may now be time for Republicans to come up with a new proposal with support from Democrats.

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"I think my view is it's probably going to be dead," McCain said of the GOP bill. If Democrats are included, he said, it doesn't mean "they control it. It means they can have amendments considered. And even when they lose, then they're part of the process. That's what democracy is supposed to be all about."

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Signaling his pessimism as well, Sen. Chuck Grassley wrote on Twitter late Saturday that Republicans will lose their Senate majority if they don't pass health care legislation. The Iowa Republican said the party should be "ashamed" that it hasn't been able to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

"WE WONT BE ASHAMED WE WILL GO FROM MAJORITY TO MINORITY," he tweeted.

The White House, anxious for a legislative victory on health care, insisted that it fully expects a GOP repeal and replace bill to pass in the coming weeks that will fulfill Trump's pledge to end Obamacare. Democrats have ruled out negotiating with Republicans unless they work to fix the law, not repeal it.

"Whether it'd be before August recess or during August recess, the president expects the Senate to fulfill the promises it made to the American people," said White House chief of staff Reince Priebus.

At least 10 GOP senators have expressed opposition to the initial bill drafted by McConnell. Republicans hold a 52-48 majority and Democrats stand united against the bill, meaning that just three GOP defections will doom it.

Cassidy, an uncommitted senator who encountered upset voters this month at a Baton Rouge town hall, rated the chances of Republicans passing broader legislation in the next three weeks at "50-50." He cited questions about the impact on coverage and cost in a revised conservative plan being circulated by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Cruz's plan, which aims to lower premiums for healthy people, has drawn support from the White House and some conservatives in the House, which would have to approve any modified bill passed by the Senate. But his proposal has limited appeal to Republican moderates such as Grassley, who told Iowa Public Radio that it may be "subterfuge to get around pre-existing conditions."

Cassidy and Priebus appeared on "Fox News Sunday," Cruz spoke on ABC's "This Week" and CBS' "Face the Nation," and McCain was on CBS.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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