Lacking votes, Senate GOP delay health care vote

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a bruising setback, Senate Republican leaders are delaying a vote on their prized health care bill until after the July 4 recess, forced to retreat by a GOP rebellion that left them lacking enough votes to even begin debating the legislation, two sources said Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., delivered the message to GOP senators at a private lunch attended by Vice President Mike Pence and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. The decision was described by a Republican aide and another informed person who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the closed-door decision.

All GOP senators were planning to travel to the White House later Tuesday to meet with President Donald Trump, one source said.

McConnell had hoped to push the measure through his chamber by this week’s end, before an Independence Day recess that party leaders fear will be used by foes of the legislation to tear away support.

FILE – In this Tuesday, June 20, 2017 file photo, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, pauses for a reporter’s question as he arrives at a closed-door GOP strategy session on the Republican health care overhaul with Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and others, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

In Ohio, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman faces intense pressure to also oppose the Senate’s GOP health care bill. The Ohio Republican is being subjected to baseball game flyovers, demonstrations, television ads and a verbal onslaught by GOP Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Kasich has been highly critical nationally of the bill’s cuts to Medicaid, which he says will harm America’s most vulnerable citizens.

Vice President Mike Pence is pushing back with a visit to Cleveland on Wednesday in support of the bill. That catches Portman, who represents a closely divided battleground state, in the crosshairs of the high-stakes intraparty fight.

Portman easily won re-election in 2016, so he’s got some time and political cushion to await an alternative bill. But GOP leaders are eager now to replace the Affordable Care Act.

The bill rolling back much of President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law has been one of the party’s top priorities for years, and the delay is a major embarrassment to Trump and McConnell. At least five GOP senators — conservatives and moderates — had said they would vote against beginning debate.

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