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Trump with Reticent Lawmaker on Healthcare: 'Look, He Wants to Remain a Senator, Doesn't He?'

WASHINGTON — During another session with Senate Republicans to push them to pass a healthcare bill, President Trump today took pointed digs at the re-election chances of one lawmaker who opposed the first incarnation of the legislation.

That version, like the amended version stopped in its tracks this week by the opposition of Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), never made it to the Senate floor for a vote. But Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), backed by a home-state Republican governor who is vehemently against congressional GOPs’ Obamacare repeal-and-replace plan, was targeted in June by America First Policies, a pro-Trump PAC that was planning a seven-figure ad buy slamming Heller unless the senator changed his vote to “yes.”

Heller is up for re-election in 2018, and Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) has already declared her candidacy for the seat.

Trump sat Heller at his right hand during the lunch for GOP senators at the White House today, and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) on his left. At a previous event to lobby GOP senators, Trump sat between Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska); neither have since budged in their opposition.

“I’ve been here just six months. I’m ready to act. I have pen in hand, believe me. I’m sitting in that office — I have pen in hand. You never had that before. You know for seven years, you had an easy route — we’ll repeal, we’ll replace, and he’s never going to sign it, but I’m signing it. So it’s a little bit different,” Trump said, adding that “I don’t think we should leave town unless we have a health insurance plan, unless we can give our people great healthcare.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has already delayed the August recess by two weeks.

“The other night I was surprised when I heard a couple of my friends — my friends — they really were and are. They might not be very much longer, but that’s OK,” he said without mentioning Lee and Moran.

Indicating Heller, Trump added, “No, you didn’t go out there. This was the one we were worried about; you weren’t there, but you’re going to be. You’re going to be.”

“Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he? OK, and I think the people of your state, which I know very well, I think they’re going to appreciate what you hopefully will do. Any senator who votes against starting debate is really telling America that you’re fine with Obamacare.”

Heller laughed as Trump spoke.

Outside the White House after the lunch, McConnell confirmed that next week the Senate will vote on a motion to proceed to a repeal bill with replacement two years down the road.

“As you know the president likes to talk on the phone. We’ve had a lot of conversations. He’s talked to a lot of members, and one of the outgrowths of the discussion is that the vice president, the secretary of Health and Human Services and head of CNS will be on Capitol Hill tonight working with some of our members who at least so far have gotten — had some difficulty in getting to yes,” McConnell said. “Let me describe what yes is. It’s the motion to proceed. We cannot keep the commitment we’ve made to the American people to repeal and replace Obamacare unless we get on the bill.”

“…I think we all agree it’s better to both repeal and replace. But we could have a vote on either. And if we end up voting on repeal only, it will be fully amendable on the Senate floor. And if it were to pass without any amendment at all, there’s a two year delay before it kicks in. So the takeaway from what I’m telling you is no harm is done by getting on the bill. Wide open for amendment. No matter what I offer as a substitute first, it’s fully amendable.”

Asked if he was willing to cancel all of August recess, McConnell simply reiterated that the cloture vote on repeal would be next week.

After the White House meeting, the Congressional Budget Office released its score on a repeal-only bill: an increase in the number of uninsured by 17 million in 2018, increasing to 27 million by 2020 and 32 million by 2026. Premiums, the CBO estimated, would rise 25 percent next year, hit 50 percent by 2020 and be double the current rate by 2026.

This story was updated at 7:25 p.m. EST