Trump calls Senate Republicans to White House for health care push

WASHINGTON, July 19 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump pushed Senate Republicans on Wednesday to take another stab at repealing or overhauling Obamacare, urging them at a WhiteHouse meeting to keep their campaign promises and find a new health care approach.

"We're close. We're very close," Trump said at the start of the lunch meeting, a day after the seven-year Republican quest to repeal and replace Democratic former President Barack Obama's signature health care law collapsed in the Senate.

Trump scolded the senators for failing to reach agreement on a health care plan that can pass Congress and urged them to stay in Washington and not leave town for a planned August recess until they did.

Protests against the Republican health care bill

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Protests against the Republican health care bill
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Protests against the Republican health care bill
THE PARK IMPERIAL AT 230 WEST 56TH ST , NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2017/07/10: New Yorkers and healthcare advocacy groups organized a protest on July 10, 2017; outside Rep. John Faso's fundraiser as donors arrive at the Park Imperial at 230 West 56th St. in Midtown Manhattan. Faso voted for the House Trumpcare bill in May, he also coauthored the notorious Collins-Faso amendment to both the House and Senate bills that would shift New York Medicaid funding from counties budgets to the state budget. (Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A healthcare activist protests to stop the Republican health care bill at Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Healthcare activists protest to stop the Republican health care bill at Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Healthcare activists get a police warning during a protest to stop the Republican health care bill at Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Healthcare activists protest to stop the Republican health care bill at Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 10: A demonstrater from Arizona chants, 'Kill the bill or lose your job' while sitting on the floor outside the offices of Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) during a protest against health care reform legislation in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill July 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. More than 100 people from across the country were arrested during the protest that was organized by Housing Works and Center for Popular Democracy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
NEW YORK COUNTY REPUBLICAN OFFICE, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2017/07/05: The Socialist Feminists of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) organized a protest outside of the New York County Republican Office in New York City on July 5, 2017; to tell Republicans that is it despicable and undemocratic that they are trying to ram Trumpcare through the Senate without debate or public hearings. (Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 10: Health care protesters from Arkansas chant outside of the office of Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., in the Hart Senate Office Building on Monday, July 10, 2017. About a dozen people loudly voiced opposition to the GOP health care bill. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
THE PARK IMPERIAL AT 230 WEST 56TH ST , NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2017/07/10: New Yorkers and healthcare advocacy groups organized a protest on July 10, 2017; outside Rep. John Faso's fundraiser as donors arrive at the Park Imperial at 230 West 56th St. in Midtown Manhattan. Faso voted for the House Trumpcare bill in May, he also coauthored the notorious Collins-Faso amendment to both the House and Senate bills that would shift New York Medicaid funding from counties budgets to the state budget. (Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 5: A small group of activists rally against the GOP health care plan outside of the Metropolitan Republican Club, July 5, 2017 in New York City. Republicans in the Senate will resume work on the bill next week when Congress returns to Washington after a holiday recess. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
A small group of activists rally against the GOP health care plan outside of the Metropolitan Republican Club, July 5, 2017 in New York City. Republicans in the Senate will resume work on the bill next week when Congress returns to Washington after a holiday recess. (Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Healthcare activists protest to stop the Republican health care bill at Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Healthcare activists are detained after a protest to stop the Republican health care bill at Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
A staff members asks the media to leave the room as Healthcare activists protest in the office of Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to stop the Republican health care bill at Russell Senate Office building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
U.S. Capitol police arrest demonstrators in wheelchairs protesting against the AHCA health care bill put forward by President Trump and Congressional Republicans as several dozen protestors are taken into custody after refusing to leave the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Demonstrators hold signs during a protest against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act outside the Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Healthcare activists are detained after a protest to stop the Republican health care bill at Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
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"Any senator who votes against starting debate is really telling America that you're fine with Obamacare," Trump told the 49 senators who came to the White House. "For seven years you promised the American people you would repeal Obamacare. People are hurting and frankly inaction is not an option."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to go ahead with a vote early next week on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, despite indications it will fail after the defections on Tuesday of at least three Republican senators.

SEE ALSO: Trump rails against Rand Paul in closed-door meeting with the senator's colleagues, and Paul fires back on TV

Moderate Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia have said they oppose McConnell's plan for a repeal that would take effect in two years, giving Congress time to develop a replacement.

With Democrats united in opposition to repeal, McConnell can only lose two votes from his 52-48 majority in the 100-seat Senate to pass health care legislation.

Capito, speaking to reporters ahead of the meeting on Wednesday, expressed some doubts theSenate vote on a repeal-only health care bill would actually occur next week. "It's changing so quickly," she said.

RELATED: A look at the Senate's all-male health care working group

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A look at the Senate's all-male health care working group
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A look at the Senate's all-male health care working group
U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) (L) and Senator David Perdue (R-GA) (R) unveil legislation aimed at curbing legal immigration by halving the number of legal immigrants admitted into the United States, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. February 7, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) smiles after he was ceremonially sworn-in by Vice President Joseph Biden in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington January 6, 2015. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS HEADSHOT)
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks during a media briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) speaks during a session called "The New Congress" at the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council meeting in Washington December 2, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) speaks to the 38th annual Conservative Political Action Conference meeting in Washington DC, U.S. February 10, 2011. REUTERS/Larry Downing/File Photo
U.S. Senator John Thune addresses the media during the 2017 "Congress of Tomorrow" Joint Republican Issues Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Makela
U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX)questions Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington March 21, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) questions Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington March 21, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Lamar Alexander speaks during Rep. Tom Price's (R-GA) nomination hearing to be Health and Human Services secretary in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) during the second day of confirmation hearings on Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) nomination to be U.S. attorney general in Washington, U.S. January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) speaks at a rally for nominee Neil Gorsuch outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S. March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
UNITED STATES - APRIL 4: Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., speaks as Senate Republican leaders hold their media availability focusing on the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch as associate justice of the Supreme Court following their policy lunch on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
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"I think we're probably going to air what our differences are again. The president has taken a lot of time to try to call us all individually," said Capito. "I don't think anyone's mind is going to get changed sitting right there, but it gives us a chance to frame it where we have our differences."

'HONOR OUR PROMISE'

Repealing and replacing Obamacare was a top campaign promise for Trump and Republicans in Congress, who say it is a costly intrusion into the health care system.

But the reality has been difficult for a party divided between moderates concerned the Senate bill would eliminate insurance for millions of low-income Americans and conservatives who want to see even deeper cuts to Obamacare, which boosted the number of Americans with health insurance through mandates on individuals and employers, and income-based subsidies.

SEE ALSO: Trump promises GOP healthcare bill will 'get even better at lunchtime,' while Democrats 'scream death' as Obamacare 'dies'

"We have to honor our promise," Republican Senator Ted Cruz told reporters. "For seven yearsRepublicans have told the voters, if you elect us, we'll repeal Obamacare. I think we will look like fools if we can't deliver on that promise."

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said it was a tough issue for Trump, but "I suspect he could be a little bit more forceful and I hope he will be. I think he needs to."

Democrats, clearly delighted with the turn of events, have welcomed the Republicans' failure to replace Obamacare as an opportunity to work together. Republicans conceded their other options may be exhausted.

The No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn, told reporters it was "unfortunate" that he expected bipartisan talks to begin.

"Democrats are strongly committed to Obamacare and are unwilling to admit structural problems, which create the problems we are having in the individual market today," Cornyn said. "But we'll do the best we can with the hand we've been dealt."

SEE ALSO: Matt Drudge sounds off on Trump's historically low approval ratings: 'Heads will roll'

If senators try to shore up Obamacare, an initial hurdle in coming weeks will be boosting faltering state insurance markets by ensuring that insurers keep receiving subsidies that help lower the cost of insurance for low-income individuals.

The Trump administration will continue making the subsidy payments through August while a related Republican lawsuit is pending. The uncertainty beyond that has rattled insurers.

Republican senators have acknowledged the need to address the unstable markets but resisted Democratic calls to fund the subsidies without accompanying reforms, calling it a "bailout" for insurance companies.

Funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program, a part of the Medicaid government health insurance program for the poor and disabled, known as CHIP, expires on Sept. 30 and will require reauthorization.

Bills to address the subsidy payments and CHIP would likely require 60 votes for passage, acting as a barometer of how inclined Republicans and Democrats are to work together, industry lobbyists and experts said.

Trump suggested on Tuesday that Republicans should allow the insurance markets to fail before working with Democrats. But Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, the head of the Senate Committee on Health, Labor and Pensions, said he would begin holding hearings on the issue in the next few weeks. (Writing by John Whitesides; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Susan Heavey; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Nick Zieminski)

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