Tierney Sneed

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.

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Additional reporting by Cameron Joseph

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) said the extended, tense-looking conversation he had with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on the Senate floor Tuesday while withholding his vote to move forward with Obamacare repeal was about him being a “positive influence” and denied that it was heated.

McConnell’s top deputy, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who participated at times in the mystery huddle, said Johnson had some “objections” and “frustration” about the process.

For more than five minutes, Johnson and McConnell engaged in a private back-and-forth as Johnson’s vote remained uncast on a key procedural vote to advance a yet-to-be-determined Obamacare repeal bill — a vote that could have killed or kept alive the effort. McConnell at one point threw up his hands in seeming frustration. The suspenseful conversation ended when Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) returned to the floor for the first time since his cancer diagnosis to a standing ovation. He and Johnson cast the votes to create a tie that Vice President Mike Pence broke to put the GOP over the top and proceed to debate on the legislation.

Heading into the Senate chamber before the vote, Johnson wouldn’t tell TPM how he planned to vote on the motion to proceed, saying only cryptically that he needed to go “talk to the leader.”

He did vote in favor of advancing the legislation after all, and played coy after the vote when reporters ask if that was his plan before his discussion with the McConnell.

You always have your options,” he said.

Asked repeatedly about what their conversation was about, Johnson would only say that he wanted to “express” to McConnell that he “wanted to be a positive influence and provide as much positive input into a better result.”

He also admitted that seeing McCain show up in the chamber a yes vote made it harder for him to vote no.

That would have been a pretty tough no vote,” Johnson said

“I was happy to join Senator McCain,” he added.

Johnson has been a thorn in Senate GOP leadership’s side as it sought to cobble together a consensus repeal bill. He joined three conservatives in rejecting the first version of the Senate Obamacare replacement, the Better Care Reconciliation Act. He has complained repeatedly about the slap-dash process Republicans have used to go forward, culminating in Tuesday’s vote to open debate on a bill, despite Republicans not really knowing what that bill will look like.

Cornyn, asked by reporters later, painted a slightly less rosy picture of what Johnson’s conversation was really about.

“Well, Senator Johnson, like others, has had some objections to the process, which is admittedly cumbersome, because you’re getting no Democratic cooperation, you have to do it under the budget reconciliation rules, so it’s frustrating for everybody,” Cornyn said. “Some of it’s frustration. But I’m glad he voted to proceed to the bill, and look forward to working with him.”

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The Senate GOP’s Obamacare repeal effort overcame a major procedural hurdle Tuesday – but there remained no clear plan for what the final legislation would look like or whether it could win support to pass.

The 51-50 vote – Vice President Mike Pence broke the tie – on what is called a motion to proceed opened debate on a yet-to-be-determined repeal bill. It was a dramatic inflection point in Republicans’ struggle to act on a major campaign promise.

After Obamacare repeal looked all but dead in the Senate, several GOP moderates softened or reversed their positions, clearing the way for the effort to continue. They included Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Rob Portman (R-OH).

Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) were the only two Republican no votes on the motion. All the Democrats opposed the motion.

The final gavel on the vote was delayed as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), recently diagnosed with brain cancer, flew back to Washington from Arizona. He cast the 49th yes vote.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) delayed casting his vote, for reasons that were not immediately clear. He was engaged in an extended conversation with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the floor as the vote was pending, before casting the 50th yes vote.

The plan emerging in the hours before the successful vote was for the Senate to vote in the days to come on competing repeal-and-replace plans which lack the votes for passage, before ultimately landing on what is unfortunately being termed “skinny repeal.” The idea is to pass the barest of repeal bills through the Senate in hopes of sending the repeal effort to a conference committee with the House-passed replacement bill, where a final deal can be hashed.

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Senate Republicans, as they headed into a lunch where they’d learn from GOP leadership how they would be proceeding in their Obamacare repeal efforts, were already spinning the emerging “skinny repeal” plan that may be the final bill they vote on as a success, after failing to settle on a replacement bill.

Progress is progress,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) told reporters before the lunch. He said would still prefer more substantial legislation to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, but that “eliminating the individual mandate would be a good thing.”

Seeking to claw their way out of a quagmire where neither the Obamacare replacement legislation the Senate has been working on nor a backup repeal-and-delay modeled on 2015 legislation would get enough votes to pass, Senate sources were floating the possibility that Republicans instead would vote on a so-called “skinny repeal,” a narrow set of repeal proposals on which Republicans mostly agree. Medicaid would go untouched under such a measure, so would the Affordable Care Act’s insurers regs, which conservatives were seeking to gut in order to lower premiums.

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If Senate Republicans pass their Frankenstein monster of an Obamacare replacement plan this week, it’s because Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) bent the dozen or so Republicans previously against it to his will, and not the other way around.

Few of the fundamentals of the repeal bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, have changed since McConnell delayed his initial plans for a vote last month. The major revisions Republicans did make, such as the preservation of some of the Affordable Care Act’s taxes, appeared to be optics-based, or even further alienated the senators wavering on the bill.

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As the Senate GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act reaches its supposed apex this week, a remarkable amount remains unknown – even to Republican senators. But what is close to a given is that whatever happens, the effort will likely fail.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) last week indicated that he was sticking to his plans to hold a vote Tuesday to open the debate on a health care bill. But neither of the two repeal proposals he has floated — a repeal-and-delay bill and the Obamacare replacement legislation the GOP has been negotiating — has enough support to pass.

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Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee posted a document Friday that they say reflects the various provisions in the GOP Obamacare replacement bill that the Senate parliamentarian has ruled to be not eligible for reconciliation, the process by which Republicans can avoid a Democratic filibuster.

The Senate parliamentarian’s office did not immediately respond to attempts to confirm the parliamentarian’s rulings on the bill, which were expected Friday.

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Senate Republicans eager to rescue their flailing Obamacare repeal effort — or at least, eager not to be blamed if it fails — are clinging to a vague idea reportedly being pitched by top Trump administration officials that they say will mitigate the replacement bill’s massive cuts to Medicaid.

The idea is being called a “wraparound” by GOP senators, and they say the goal would be to funnel the low-income people who would lose Medicaid coverage into private plans, using a combination of tax credits for private insurance, the legislation’s stabilization fund and existing Medicaid revenue streams.

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Republicans must be feeling beach season, because they all have their flip-flops on.

The prospect that the Senate might vote on a version of 2015 legislation that repealed many parts of Obamacare with a two-year delay to replace it down the road has key Republicans in the health care debate doing a 180 — or even a full 360, in some cases. All but one current GOP senator voted for the repeal-and-delay bill, which was vetoed by then-President Obama, in 2015. Some are saying they won’t vote for it again, while others in favor of going in this direction a few months ago insisted that Republican pass a replacement the Affordable Care Act instead of just repealing it.

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The Congressional Budget Office said Thursday that a new draft of the Senate Obamacare replacement legislation would result in 22 million fewer people with health coverage by 2026, compared to current law.

By 2026, 15 million fewer people would be enrolled in Medicaid, 5 million fewer people would have nongroup coverage and two million fewer people would have coverage through their employer when compared to current law, the CBO said.

The score did not reflect any analysis of a proposal being offered by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that would let insurers sell unregulated plans because that amendment was not in the bill text submitted to the CBO its Thursday score. The coverage losses were akin to the ones predicted under the office’s first score of the Senate health care legislation, the Better Care Reconciliation Act.

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The score that the Congressional Budget Office is expected to release Thursday of the latest version of the Senate Obamacare replacement legislation will not include analysis of the biggest change to the bill senators may or may not be voting on next week: An amendment by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that the insurance industry already warned would cause “millions of more individuals” to “become uninsured.”

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