By Dustin Volz and David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican leaders of the House of Representatives pulled legislation to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system from consideration on Friday due to a shortage of votes despite desperate lobbying by the White House and its allies in Congress, dealing a stiff setback to President Donald Trump.
Republican leaders had planned a vote on the measure after Trump cut off negotiations with Republicans who had balked at the plan and issued an ultimatum to vote on Friday, win or lose.
Republican moderates as well as the most conservative lawmakers had objected to the legislation. The White House and House leaders were unable to come up with a plan that satisfied both moderates and conservatives.
Trump told the Washington Post: “We just pulled it.”
Amid a chaotic scramble for votes, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, who has championed the bill, met with Trump at the White House before the bill was pulled from the House floor after hours of debate.
Trump told the Post the healthcare bill would not be coming up again in the near future and that he wanted to see if Democrats who uniformly objected to the Republican plan would come to him to work on healthcare legislation, a Washington Post reporter said on MSNBC.
Without the bill’s passage in Congress, Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, the 2010 Affordable Care Act – known as Obamacare – would remain in place despite seven years of Republican promises to dismantle it.
Repealing and replacing Obamacare was a top campaign promise by Trump in the 2016 presidential election, as well as by most Republican candidates, “from dog-catcher on up,” as White House spokesman Sean Spicer put it during a briefing on Friday.
The House failure to pass the measure called into question Trump’s ability to get other key parts of his agenda, including tax cuts and a boost in infrastructure spending, through a Congress controlled by his own party.
“There’s nobody that objectively can look at this effort and say the president didn’t do every single thing he possibly could with this team to get every vote possible,” Spicer told reporters before the legislation was pulled.
Trump already has been stymied by federal courts that blocked his executive actions barring entry into the United States of people from several Muslim-majority nations. Some Republicans worry a defeat on the healthcare legislation could cripple his presidency just two months after the wealthy New York real estate mogul took office.
In a blow to the bill’s prospects, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen announced his opposition, expressing concern about reductions in coverage under the Medicaid insurance program for the poor and the retraction of “essential” health benefits that insurers must cover.
“We need to get this right for all Americans,” Frelinghuysen said.