In the last hour on Friday afternoon that House Republicans and the White House still held out hope they’d start the unraveling of Obamacare, U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows stayed at the negotiating table.
When he stood up, their hopes were dashed.
Meadows and other House Freedom Caucus members delivered the bad news to Vice President Mike Pence at a lengthy lunch meeting Friday: There was enough opposition among conservative lawmakers to sink a GOP repeal effort.
Within minutes, Republican leaders yanked the legislation from the floor.
A testy, public fight that saw President Donald Trump personally intervene and give lawmakers an ultimatum was over.
Meadows, at the center of media attention all week while also juggling personal calls from Trump, reflected on his win in private on Friday after the Pence meeting.
Speaker Paul Ryan later announced the bill was nixed and lamented Republicans had “come close” but couldn’t move forward with Obamcare repeal.
Meadows and other conservatives had blasted Ryan’s bill as not going far enough to gut Obamacare regulations on health insurance companies and predicted it wouldn’t actually lower individuals’ premiums.
The two sides of the debate went back-and-forth all week and talks continued Thursday and Friday after Ryan and others allowed a delay on a scheduled Thursday vote. All parties said for days the negotiating was ongoing and they had hope a deal would be reached.
Still, by the time Meadows left the Friday late afternoon Pence meeting at the Capitol Hill Club, a favorite Republican meet-up and Washington, D.C., restaurant, Ryan’s signature health care plan was gone.
Meadows emerged from a side door at the restaurant and took the long route back on the walk to his Capitol Hill office, telling reporters who tried tagging along “no comment.”
Inside, Meadows closed his office door. Meanwhile, Ryan prepared to meet with House Republicans and then held a press conference where he blamed party discord over health care on the “growing pains” of becoming the majority party in Congress and the White House.
Yet, some laid the blame right at Ryan’s feet – saying Meadows had been an honest broker and suffered being shut out of the process, like other rank-and-file House members.
“We’re promised every time: ‘Next time, we’ll get your input before the bill is written,’” said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and Freedom Caucus member, on dealing with House leadership.
“I hope and pray this time, the lesson will actually be learned,” Gohmert said of the breakdown over Obamacare repeal.
Gohmert praised Meadows work on the bill, saying he was negotiating with a president who was also doing “everything he could with a bad bill.”
“We don’t even know who wrote it,” Gohmert said. “I suspect there were insurance lobbyists that had a hand in writing this ... (Next time), let us participate in the process.”
The conservative Heritage Foundation’s lobbying arm, which helped corral conservative opposition to the GOP bill this week, saw Meadows as the key resistor to Ryan’s plan.
“He did a tremendous amount to advance this debate,” said Dan Holler, spokesperson for Heritage Action, who blamed Ryan for rebuking the Freedom Caucus early in the process.
“The hope here is that this is not the beginning of a trend (for House leaders) ... If we can get back on track with everything, all of this will be a blip in time.”
After Ryan pulled the plug on the bill, Meadows promised he’d still engage on repeal. But, he pledged to work with Trump and didn’t mention the speaker in a statement sent late Friday.
“I promised the people of North Carolina's 11th District that I would fight for a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act and a replacement with a market-driven approach that brings down costs and provides more choices for the American people,” Meadows wrote. “I know President Trump is committed to repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a system that works for American families, and I look forward to working with him do just that.”