WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump warned House Republicans Tuesday they will lose their seats in Congress if their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare fails, even telling one conservative member something along the lines of "I'm gonna come after you," according to several people in the room.
Trump spoke at a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill Tuesday to make a final pitch for the Republicans' troubled Affordable Health Care Act, with a make-or-break vote for the Obamacare replacement bill planned for Thursday.
Trump warned that Republicans will lose their majorities in both the House and Senate if they botch Obamacare repeal, according to several people in the room.
But several members left the meeting saying they still oppose the AHCA. With about 48 hours to go, it's unclear if the most important piece of legislation to go through Congress since Trump became president will pass or fail in the House.
During the meeting Trump personally called out one of the most vocal opponents of the AHCA, Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, according to multiple witnesses.
“The reaction when he said ‘Mark Meadows I’m coming after you’ was pretty loud cheers," Texas Rep. Bill Flores said. “I think he was tongue-in-cheek, half-joking. But the way the crowd responded was pretty interesting.”
Meadows emerged from the meeting laughing off the interaction.
“The president and I have an extremely good relationship and, as he’s known to do, he’s not shy about stating what he believes should or should not happen," said Meadows.
But Meadows said he remains opposed to the AHCA because it does not fully repeal Obamacare's Medicaid expansion and mandates, among other issues. As the House inches closer to a Thursday vote on the bill, Meadows insisted there are still not enough votes to pass it.
"I certainly still think the president is the best guy to bring this home and close this deal," said Meadows. “But if everyone is entrenched at this particular point it’s going to be a very difficult 48 hours.”
He was far from alone in expressing doubts about the bill.
“The president’s great, the bill’s still bad," said Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, a Freedom Caucus member. Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie said Trump "was very charming but I’m unconvinced on the bill.”
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Republican plan would lead to 24 million more uninsured people in the next decade compared to the existing system. Premiums are also projected to rise before they fall several years out if Republicans pass the AHCA. North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones said he believed the replacement plan was rushed.
“I have a conservative district and my polls are running ten-to-one against this bill,” said Jones.
Speaker Paul Ryan rejected the idea that the bill would fail. He said several members of the far-right Freedom Caucus have come around to supporting the bill and there is general agreement the AHCA is better than the status quo.
"The president just came here and knocked the ball out of the park," said Ryan. "He knocked the cover off the ball in explaining to our members how it's important to unify, how it's important to work together."
Meadows could not disagree more. He insists the Freedom Caucus, which includes about 40 members, remains unified in opposition. If that proves true, they have the numbers to bring the AHCA down on Thursday.
As the main thorn in Ryan's side, the Freedom Caucus has fought for major changes to the health care bill including more aggressive repeal of the Medicaid expansion and regulations under Obamacare, as well as dropping the GOP plan's system of advance refundable tax credits. They have not received any of those concessions.
Appeasing the Freedom Caucus would mean alienating moderate Republicans, who successfully argued down a proposal to repeal Medicaid expansion next year.
An amendments package announced Monday also appeals to moderates by promising increased financial support to older Americans who would see premiums spike as Obamacare rules are repealed, but the details are to be sorted out in the Senate at a later date.
To woo conservatives, the amendments package also offers the option of introducing work requirements to able-bodied people receiving Medicaid and to accept block grant funding for the program.
The question is whether these modest amendments are enough to win over either side. Some are optimistic.
“I 100% believe the votes are there," Florida Rep. Brian Mast said. "I think you’re going to see this conference come together in an amazing way."
Alexis Levinson contributed reporting to this story.
Paul McLeod is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Paul McLeod at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lissandra Villa is a reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Lissandra Villa at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.