ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The Supreme Court’s announcement that it would take up the travel ban is one thing that makes this a big week for President Trump – another, Senate Republicans’ effort to pass a replacement to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, by July Fourth. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us from the White House to talk about that. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Let’s start with the score that just came out this afternoon from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office which says 22 million more people would be uninsured over the next decade under the Senate legislation. Tell us more about what the CBO says.
LIASSON: The CBO says that that amount will lose coverage over the next decade. That’s almost identical to their scoring of the House bill. They also talk about how premiums will go up for lower-income, older, poorer Americans. And the White House immediately issued a statement attacking the CBO, saying it’s proven that in the past that it’s incapable of predicting insurance coverage. But this is a blow to the bill, and the president promised several times that under his watch, health care would get cheaper, better, and there would be no Medicaid cuts. And so far, the Senate bill does not live up to those criteria.
SHAPIRO: And just in the hours since the CBO score came out, we’ve already seen reactions from some senators who might have been on the fence before. Tell us what’s happening here.
LIASSON: That’s right. We know that Susan Collins is the first Republican senator to come out and say definitively she is a no vote. She says she will vote no on the motion to proceed, which is the procedural rule that allows the bill to go to the floor. She’s a moderate senator from Maine. It’s a rural state, and as she said in some tweets, it has a lot of vulnerable Americans. And a lot of Mainers are on Medicaid. I think she said something like 1 in 5 residents of Maine are on Medicaid, and she’s worried about those deep cuts.
There’s a pool of other senators who have expressed reservations – Dean Heller of Nevada, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, can only afford to lose two senators to pass this bill. And so he’s already lost one with Susan Collins, and we’re really watching those other senators.
SHAPIRO: So walk us through the political strategy here. Mitch McConnell has said it is so important to him to have a vote this week before the July Fourth recess, but if the votes aren’t there, could there be reason for him to postpone a vote, let people go home and come back when they’ve had more time to think about it?
LIASSON: They could, but part of his strategy was to not do that because if they go home, they’re going to face a lot of angry constituents the way they did in the previous breaks. And he doesn’t want that to happen because it might be even harder for him to get the votes when they come back.
One of the things that he’s telling them is, look; every Republican has promised for seven years to repeal Obamacare. This is it. This is the only bill that you’re going to get a chance to vote for that does that. If you don’t do that, you are going to anger the base of the Republican Party, and it will be impossible for us to proceed with anything else, any other priorities for Republicans like tax reform.
He’s also going to tell them that Medicaid is going to be transformed. That is a – would be a generational achievement for conservatives. This is something they’ve wanted to do for a very long time – is, you know, shrink entitlements. And he’s going to try to sell it to them. He also has a pot of money to bargain with. He might tell Susan Collins he’ll put more money in for opioid abuse or rural health care. Mitch McConnell is legendary for being somebody who can get the votes, keep his Republicans together. This is a big challenge for him, but most people think he has a few more cards up his sleeve.
SHAPIRO: You talked about Susan Collins. Tell us about Dean Heller of Nevada, who’s another interesting player in this debate.
LIASSON: Yeah, Dean Heller is a really interesting player because he’s the only Republican from a state that Clinton won who’s up for re-election in 2018. He came out on Friday at a press conference with the governor of his state saying – he practically said he was a no. And a pro-Trump super PAC has threatened to run a million-dollar ad buy against Heller in his own state. He’s already facing a tremendous amount of social media and advertising from people who want him to vote to save Obamacare. So he’s really being hit from the right and the left. We also hear he might want to run for governor in 2018, and maybe he’s not so concerned about the pushback from his fellow Senate Republicans.
SHAPIRO: NPR’s Mara Liasson, thank you.
LIASSON: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.