Haley Byrd/Independent Journal Review
Note: this article contains coarse language that may offend some readers.
After a suspenseful late-night vote on an unpopular bill to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act failed spectacularly early Friday morning, despondent Republican senators opened the door — just a crack — to a bipartisan push on improving the health care system.
But it remains hard to gauge exactly where that effort might stand, because typically chatty senators weren't up for twilight talks with reporters. Some were even on the verge of tears or visibly frustrated, like Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), who walked silently back to his office after the bill went down.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hinted at the possibility of bipartisanship to address health care concerns like market instability when he spoke from the floor after the vote, which he conceded was disappointing.
“Now I think it's appropriate to ask: What are their ideas?” McConnell said of Democrats. “It'll be interesting to see what they suggest as the way forward.”
A Gallup poll conducted earlier this month found 16 percent of Americans surveyed said health care was the most important problem currently facing the U.S. That makes it about even with the top issue, dissatisfaction in the government, which 19 percent of respondents cited as the biggest issue.
Many Democrats, such as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), received McConnell's signal enthusiastically.
“I was very pleased to hear the focus at the end on bipartisanship,” Wyden told Independent Journal Review after the vote. “I really hope now that we can bring about a sharp turn towards that kind of focus. On these kinds of issues, there’s a lot of opportunity for common ground.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) agreed. “There's a lot of goodwill and we can work together,” he said.
But some Republicans argued their colleagues on the other side of the aisle wouldn't be interested in working together on a short-term market stabilization measure.
“I don’t believe Democrats have any interest in doing anything productive,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told reporters afterward — an allegation Democrats were quick to refute.
Cruz argued instead that Republican senators would face pressure from constituents in the coming days to return to work on their messy repeal effort.
Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) also downplayed the possibility of working on a bipartisan measure.
When IJR asked if he expected a common approach to address market instability, high costs, and other concerns, Thune answered, “Well, if Democrats are willing to work with us. But we haven’t seen much evidence that they are, so we’ll see."
Thune said he believed the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee could work alongside the Senate Finance Committee to get something done.
But when IJR asked if that meant any new health care bills would be derived from a committee-led process, Thune was skeptical.
“A committee-led process isn’t going to get you very close to repealing and replacing Obamacare," he said.
And President Donald Trump's legislative affairs director, Marc Short, told IJR repealing Obamacare remained the White House's goal, despite Friday's crippling blow to the agenda item.
“The administration promised to repeal and replace Obamacare, and we’ll stay focused on doing that," Short said.
A senior Republican Senate aide told IJR the White House wasn't focused on ensuring the health care bill's success at all, though:
“I know we deserve plenty of blame. But the week the Senate was trying to pass health care, the president was trying to slowly force out Sessions like an eighth-grade girl, ban transgender people from the military, and his brave new communications director is talking about killing people and destroying the White House from the inside.”
“Not only is nobody afraid of this White House, [but] the White House actually serves as an incentive to work against the Republican agenda by being such a sh*tshow,” he added.
Despite skepticism, some Republicans like Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) were ready to talk to their Democratic counterparts about a short-term health care fix.
“We’ve got to provide a solution,” Tillis told IJR. “I hope that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle can give us something to look at that we can get done. But there’s still a problem out there. We’ve got to fix it.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said finding answers for the problems rampant in the health care system remained his goal as well. “I’ve always tried to work with Democrats. I don’t think anyone can accuse me otherwise... but it’s easier said than done."
In the meantime, Sen. Mike Rounds (S.D.) told IJR it was time for Republicans to regroup.
“Now our focus has got to be, what do we do short-term to help literally millions of Americans who are either going to see no market or a very limited market, and one which is very expensive?" Rounds said.