Obama, Pence duel over health care repeal at Capitol

President Barack Obama told congressional Democrats Wednesday that their fight to preserve Obamacare is highly winnable – while in another part of the Capitol, Vice President-elect Mike Pence was giving Republicans a pep talk and a blueprint for repeal.

The private session with Democrats in a basement room at the Capitol complex was likely the president’s last visit in office until he arrives the morning of Jan. 20 to attend Donald Trump’s inauguration. Obama hoped Wednesday’s visit was a chance to create some momentum for what is arguably his most important legislative accomplishment.

The Senate Wednesday was to begin debate on repealing the Affordable Care Act, the nearly 7-year-old law that requires most people to get health coverage.

The high stakes were evident as Pence met with House Republicans at virtually the same time as Obama was at the Capitol. Pence reiterated how repeal should be the “first order of business” this year.

And President-elect Donald Trump joined the fray, tweeting, “Don’t let the Schumer clowns out of this Web.” And “It will fall of its own weight – be careful.”

After the Obama meeting, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., emphasized that while repeal can be fairly easy, replacing the huge system is not.

“They’re going to have more trouble than they ever imagined,” he said.

And he told Trump and Republicans, “Republicans should stop clowning around with America’s health care.”

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., stressed how the debate was more than a battle over health care policy. “We have a values debate on our hands,” she said.

The Senate measure, which begins the process of repeal, is due for votes next week. If it passes, which is expected, committees will have until Jan. 27 to provide details of how repeal would work.

Correction: Prior versions of this article misstated Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's role in the US Senate.