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GOP healthcare bill in serious jeopardy as dozens of Republican lawmakers withhold support

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President Donald Trump speaks during the Women in Healthcare panel at the White House.
(JIM WATSON / AFP/Getty Images)

The Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare hit serious trouble Wednesday, with more than 30 GOP House members -- more than enough to sink it -- refusing to back the proposal.

With the vote count looking uncertain at best, Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) now must decide whether to push forward with plans to vote on Thursday or put it off to allow more time for negotiations.

The White House stepped up its efforts to sway resistant lawmakers, including meetings with President Trump and other officials.

So far, however, those appeals appeared unable to sway enough votes for the bill to gain a majority. Assuming that all the chamber’s Democratic members vote against the bill, Republicans can afford to lose 21 from their ranks.

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The White House insisted, though, that Thursday’s vote was on, setting up a potential showdown with opponents.

“If you want to see Obamacare repealed and replaced, this is the vote, this is the time to act,” said Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer. “There is no Plan B,” he said.

Republican hold a majority in the House and Senate but lawmakers have struggled to agree on legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare. Many conservatives say the bill doesn’t go far enough to repeal Obamacare, while some centrists fear it goes too far and will deprive too many people of health coverage.

Conservatives claimed they have the votes to defeat the measure.

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“We easily have enough votes -- with a buffer -- to kill this legislation unless it’s substantially improved,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said as he emerged from a private meeting of the conservative Freedom Caucus.

Caucus members appeared unmoved after a lengthy meeting at the White House with Vice President Mike Pence and other top administration officials, including White House advisors Stephen Bannon and Kellyanne Conway and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

“We still haven’t seen the movement we want,” Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) said afterward.

Brooks dismissed the session as a “rah-rah” meeting.

“It’s ‘we really need you to help. It’s a part of a team effort. This is part of a sequence of events,’ those kinds of things, when really what we need is a healthcare bill that’s going to lower premiums for the people of America.”

Trump didn’t appear to do much better. The president met with 10 reluctant lawmakers brought in by the GOP whip’s team to win their support, and he met the day before with members of the more centrist Tuesday Group.

“I don’t know that anybody changed their mind,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a co-chairman of the Tuesday Group.

“I went into the meeting with serious reservations about the bill, and I still have serious reservations about the bill,” Dent said.

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Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said the president was very engaged and asked a lot of questions.

“There were people with concerns in there, and as they voiced them, he did everything he could to address them,” said Kinzinger, who was also in the Tuesday Group session.

“It’s obviously a huge, deep issue, so I don’t know if anybody was swayed.”

Conservative opponents are demanding, among other things, legislative language that would undo requirements for the level of benefits that insurers have to provide. Such rules are too restrictive, and looser policies would reduce insurance premiums, they argue.

At the same time, more moderate Republicans are worried that too many of their constituents will lose access to care because of the bill’s rollback of coverage under Medicaid, the safety net program for low-income, disabled and older Americans.

Other Republicans are also concerned that they are being asked to vote on changes to the bill without updated analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Earlier this month, the budget office said that the number of Americans without insurance would rise by as much as 24 million over the next 10 years if the bill becomes law.

Meanwhile, protesters trying to save Obamacare rallied both inside and outside the Capitol on Wednesday.

Former Vice President Joe Biden joined Democrats on the East Front of the Capitol to celebrate the seventh anniversary of the law’s passage.

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