6 GOP senators break with Trump on Obamacare suit

WASHINGTON — Five Republican senators facing re-election voted for a Democratic-led bill Thursday to block the Trump administration from supporting a lawsuit to overturn Obamacare.

The senators include Susan Collins of Maine, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Martha McSally of Arizona, who are locked in some of the most competitive Senate races this year.

Alaska Republicans Dan Sullivan, who is also up for re-election, and Lisa Murkowski, who doesn’t face voters until 2022, also voted with Democrats on the measure.

The legislation, offered by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., received 51 votes — short of the 60 needed to advance, due to overwhelming GOP opposition.

Among the Republican senators who voted against it were Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and David Perdue of Georgia, who all face tough re-election bids and are running as staunch Trump allies.

Collins and Murkowski are the only two sitting Republicans who voted against undoing Obamacare in 2017.

Ernst, Gardner and McSally have supported repeal efforts, and are facing a barrage of Democratic attacks for the Republican lack of a plan to cover millions of Americans who would lose coverage and protections if the current law were overturned.

Their votes are an attempt to distance themselves from President Donald Trump’s support of a Texas-led lawsuit seeking to invalidate Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act. Trump and these senators have not offered an alternative plan to provide the law's popular protections for pre-existing conditions if the suit succeeds.

These Republicans are caught between the rising popularity of the health care law and continuing demands from conservative voters to eliminate it. Fifty-seven percent of American disapprove of the Trump administration asking the Supreme Court to overturn the ACA, while 38 percent approve of the move, according to a nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation poll taken in July.

The vote comes as Democrats seek to turn the debate over Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation into a referendum on health care, suggesting she would vote to overturn the ACA if she is seated on the court before the case is heard in mid-November.

“They were against protecting pre-existing conditions, they were for the lawsuit," Schumer said at a news conference after the vote, referring to the Republicans who voted for his bill. "And now, three weeks before the election they try to say they’re for it and working it out so there’s not enough votes to actually let it have effect. They can't hide from all their votes to repeal the ACA."

Freshman Republican Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., said he plans to introduce his own plan next week as a possible replacement to the ACA.

“We've been for overturning it so long and that ship has sailed,” Braun told NBC News. “Whether it gets held up or overturned, we’ve got to come up with a plan — it’s long overdue.”

Braun claimed that his proposal, not yet reviewed by NBC, would cover pre-existing conditions, ensure no caps on coverage, and allows those under 26 to stay on the plan — “the pillars of the Affordable Care Act,” Braun added.

Tillis, who voted against Schumer’s motion Thursday, offered his own proposal with narrower protections for pre-existing conditions. Democrats say it doesn't go far enough — and Braun agrees.

“That is just a narrow statement that Republicans are for covering pre-existing conditions,” Braun said. “Most Republicans are afraid of taking on the industry – I’m not.”