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Inside Trump’s last-ditch bid to avoid a health care disaster

Archconservative Rep. Steve King was a “no” on the House GOP Obamacare replacement when President Donald Trump summoned him to the White House on Wednesday morning.

At an Oval Office meeting with 18 House Republicans — mostly opponents of the bill — Trump invited King to sit next to him in a chair normally reserved for Vice President Mike Pence, one of the Iowa Republican’s closest friends in politics.

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Trump asked King why he couldn’t vote for the bill. King responded he didn’t think it would lower insurance premiums enough. But King then floated a potential deal to Trump: If the president would publicly back amending the bill to deregulate the health care industry, King would change his vote.

Trump agreed, and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) picked up a desperately needed vote.

With one day to go until the biggest vote of his brief presidency, Trump is using all the trappings of his office to try to clinch the needed 215 votes. It’s unclear whether it will be enough to save the legislation. But late Wednesday, the White House floated a major change to the bill in a bid to win over roughly three dozen House conservatives. It was over the same issue King had raised in the White House meeting earlier in the day.

Trump is trying to overawe opponents of the bill with the prestige of White House, calling them into his gold-painted Oval Office for private conversations. He is leaning on Ryan to promise them votes on their pet measures. And Trump is showing he’s quite open to horse-trading, if that’s what it takes.

Over the next 24 hours, Trump plans to meet one-on-one with more opponents. Insiders say he’ll likely focus on members whose districts he carried by a wide margin, which includes a large slice of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus.


The question is: Can the man House GOP leaders dubbed the “ultimate closer” get it done?

Trump will also huddle with the Freedom Caucus on Thursday morning, just hours before the bill hits the floor.

The White House made a major concession to the Freedom Caucus on Wednesday night. It agreed to add a provision to the health care bill to eliminate an Obamacare mandate that forces insurance plans to provide a minimum menu of benefits. Ryan and other top Republicans had balked at making such a move, fearing it would derail the bill under the Senate’s arcane procedural rules.

But with a possible defeat looming on Thursday, the White House went along. The concession showed how far Trump is willing to go to prevail, though problems remain with some moderate Republicans.

It was hardly the only ask of Trump.

During the same White House meeting with conservatives earlier Wednesday, Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), who currently intends to vote no, raised the issue of health insurance and pension benefits for retired mine workers. Thousands of former mine employees will lose their health and pension benefits soon if the federal government doesn’t intervene.

McKinley asked Trump to support a permanent extension of the benefits. Trump said he would see what he could do. McKinley planned to meet with Ryan about the issue.


“I want to find a way that I can find comfort with this” bill, McKinley said.

When asked whether his vote hinges on what happens with the coal miner provisions, McKinley admitted it may.

“This is my best position I have right now for leverage to deal with issues that people try to avoid around here,” McKinley said.

Trump’s wheeling and dealing kicked off in earnest Tuesday night after one of his must gung-ho supporters on Capitol Hill, Rep. Lou Barletta, announced he would oppose the bill. The Pennsylvania Republican said he had concerns that undocumented immigrants would receive health care tax credits.

Just before Trump took the stage at a National Republican Congressional Committee fundraiser, the president huddled with Barletta and Ryan in a private room off the main auditorium where thousands were seated. Barletta told Trump he wanted to pass a bill that would create a verification process to ensure only American citizens receive the credit, an idea he said Ryan would not put in the replacement bill.

Trump on Obamacare repeal: ‘We’ll see what happens’

President Trump answers questions about the Obamacare repeal.