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Upton, Long reverse themselves and back Obamacare repeal bill

Two prominent Republican opponents of the House GOP’s Obamacare repeal bill reversed course and backed the measure Wednesday morning, after negotiating a last-minute amendment with President Donald Trump at the White House.

Reps. Fred Upton of Michigan and Billy Long of Missouri, whose defections this week rattled rank-and-file Republicans, emerged from their session with the president and said an amendment to add $8 billion to help cover people with pre-existing conditions would return them to the “yes” column on the bill.

Though there were concerns the revised measure might repel conservatives already reluctant to back the GOP plan, early signals suggested most would remain on board.

“I believe they will find broad support among [House Freedom Caucus] members for their amendment,” said caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) in a statement to POLITICO.

Some White House officials want a vote on the bill quickly, and House Republican leaders are warning Democrats that the bill might come up for a vote as early as Thursday. Two senior White House officials said they feared members leaving for recess without voting could doom eventual passage, but many in Congress have grown frustrated with the White House’s timetables.

Upton, the former chairman of the House energy and commerce committee and author of several Obamacare repeal bills, had declared Tuesday that the House plan fell short of GOP promises to protect people with preexisting conditions. His opposition threatened to derail delicate last-minute negotiations to pass the legislation, known as the American Health Care Act. Long, a staunch Trump ally, also threatened to scramble the GOP whip count.

After the White House meeting, Long told reporters at first he resisted pressure from Trump to support the bill.

“We need you, we need you, we need you,” Long said Trump told him in phone calls on Tuesday. “I said, ‘I’m a no’ and I stayed a no. I said, ‘Fred Upton and I have been working on some language, if we can get [it] in there, it can get us both in a position we need to be on pre-existing conditions and make sure those people are covered. Because they need to be covered. Period.’”

Even as he switched his position, Upton expressed caution, noting that the measure will almost certainly not become law in its current form.

“This bill will change from where it is today” once the Senate takes it up, Upton said.

The last-minute talks appeared to pay dividends with some fence-sitting moderates in the House. Shortly after Upton and Long’s White House visit, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) said in a statement that if House leaders “work to tighten” protections for people with preexisting conditions, he would support the bill. A spokeswoman Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) said the congressman would “review” the amendment to see whether it addressed his concerns with earlier versions of the bill.

The White House now feels as though they are on the precipice of passage, an administration official said after the announcement. A vote isn’t necessarily vital this week, the official said, but would be “preferable.”

Early Wednesday, the White House began to lean on House leadership to call a vote on the measure — known as the American Health Care Act — this week.

“If I were the speaker of the House, and I’m not — and by the way I’m thankful that I’m not, it’s a miserable job — I’d probably go to the floor because it’s just that close,” said Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney, during an appearance on “Fox & Friends.”

Similar comments have irked House leaders in the past because they’re conducting a delicate whip operation to try to corral hesitant colleagues. And despite Mulvaney’s pronouncement, House Speaker Paul Ryan declined to commit to holding a vote when asked Wednesday morning. He said the House leaders were “extremely close” to securing enough support to pass the AHCA.

But leaders seemed cautiously optimistic they had struck the right balance.

“I think we have a solution that addresses some of their concerns, gives us the ability to bring more people into the yes column without losing any of our current yes votes,” said Majority Whip Steve Scalise on Fox News on Wednesday morning.

GOP leaders can only afford to lose 22 votes and still pass the bill. Already about 20 lawmakers, mostly moderates concerned about the bill’s impact on constituents, have said publicly they will vote “no.” Even more have said they’re undecided and have yet to make up their minds.

Trump is pouring a lot of political capital into the latest effort to pass the bill. The president made at least a dozen phone calls seeking support for the bill Tuesday.

The White House is hoping changes to the bill will win over wary moderates, and they’re crossing their fingers that Trump can secure an endorsement from those opponents after his meeting with lawmakers Wednesday.

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