Colorado Republican Mike Coffman said early Friday that he supported the AHCA, the GOP’s plan in the U.S. House to repeal and replace Obamacare. By the afternoon, GOP leadership had pulled the bill — because of a lack of votes.
Coffman’s initial support came on a day when GOP leaders had scheduled their health care overhaul for a vote in the House — and as its supporters fought to wrangle the necessary votes.
But by 2 p.m., Republican leadership and President Donald Trump agreed to pull the bill. It was a stunning first defeat for the new president and his legislative agenda.
As the battle of the bill raged throughout the day in Washington, many eyes were on Coffman, Colorado’s fifth-term Republican congressman from Aurora, who called the GOP’s Trump-Ryancare plan “the best compromise” House Republicans could get before sending it to the Senate.
As of noon Friday, Colorado’s three other Republican congressmen, Ken Buck of Windsor, Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs, and Scott Tipton of the Western Slope, had not made their own voting plans public.
In the end it turned out House Republicans did not have the votes to pass the bill.
Some of the conference’s most conservative members do not think Trumpcare, which was orchestrated by House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, goes far enough to crush President Barack Obama’s signature health care bill, the Affordable Care Act.
Coffman’s early decision on the quickly hatched replacement plan had him caught between a Republican president he ran against, a wealthy outside group he counted on during his campaign, and his own constituents. He represents a suburban district that wraps around the Denver suburbs and is a nearly even mix of Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters. In November, he beat his well-funded and well-known opponent, Morgan Carroll, who now chairs the state Democratic Party, by about 10 points, though Hillary Clinton carried the district.
A conservative-led defeat of the AHCA on the floor of the U.S. House would have leveled a devastating blow to President Donald Trump, who positions himself as a master negotiator and dealmaker. And so around 2 p.m., he told Ryan to pull the bill so there wouldn’t be a vote, according to media reports.
Some groups were quick to cheer its defeat.
“House Republicans raced to the floor with a cruel, disastrous replacement bill that would cut care to 24 million people and raise fees, while delivering billions in tax breaks, mostly for wealthy corporations and individuals,” said Ben Monterroso, director of Mi Familia Vota, which fights for issues impacting the Latino community. “They got tripped by conservatives in their own party who blocked the plan for the wrong reason: it did not go far enough to repeal popular provisions of Obamacare.”
But back in Coffman’s own district minutes before the bill was pulled, many in the lobby of a VA clinic in Aurora were hoping it would pass.
“Anything’s better than Obamacare, and I don’t even use it,” said a 67-year-old Air Force veteran named Richard, who declined to give his last name. “I think they need something better. I don’t know what’s in it yet, but it’s better than what [Nancy] Pelosi said — ‘Vote on it first and we’ll figure out what’s in it later.'”
Richard doesn’t think the AHCA proposal was getting the same rushed treatment, and said he appreciated how the text of the bill was available online for the average American to read. He’s not what you’d call happy with his VA coverage— “it sucks,” he says— but uses it because “the drugs are cheap.” He’s also on Medicare, which he relied on for a recent hip replacement he says would have taken years to get with the VA.
“I’d be in a wheelchair right now if I hadn’t gone to a civilian doctor to get it done,” he said. He’s now using a cane while he recovers from surgery.
Maureen and Fred, a married couple from Brighton, both in their 70s, who also chose to give only their first names, echoed those sentiments.
“It needs to be repealed,” Maureen said of Obamacare. “Something has to be done, and it needs to be changed.”
She says her husband doesn’t always get treatment quickly with the VA, but that care he does get is good. She and her husband “love” Coffman and are glad he was on board with the Republican plan. The two of them have had discussions with Coffman’s office to discuss Fred’s benefits, and say Coffman was “very, very helpful.”
Asked about Coffman’s support of the AHCA, Fred said, “Good for him. He’s going to go the way I want it.”
Others had a different take.
In late February, Children’s Hospital Colorado thanked Coffman for visiting and talking about Medicaid.
— Child Health Champs (@COChildChamps) February 24, 2017
But as a potential vote for the AHCA loomed on Friday, the hospital’s director, Heidi Baskfield, said she would be disappointed if the congressman voted for it.
“We at Children’s Hospital Colorado were gravely concerned about the House bill three weeks ago, and it has gotten worse,” she told The Colorado Independent in a statement. “By imposing drastic budget cuts to Medicaid, it would undermine coverage and care for Colorado kids, including our state’s sickest children. A yes vote by Congressman Mike Coffman would be disappointing and would cause an estimated 47,000 people in his district to lose coverage.”
In the past 48 hours, Trump had been leaning on congressional Republicans to pass the bill.
— President Trump (@POTUS) March 24, 2017
Meanwhile, outside the frenzied halls of Congress, the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers and their network of wealthy donors pledged to defend Republicans who would vote against the AHCA, which they call “Obamacare 2.0” because they believe it does not go far enough.
Their groups amassed a seven-figure war chest to back GOP AHCA defectors— a direct challenge to the Trump administration.
Coffman, who distanced himself from Trump during his campaign and aired TV ads saying he would “stand up” to him in Congress, benefitted heavily from the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity during his race. Coffman’s was the only congressional race in the nation where AFP worked specifically to defeat a candidate, in that case Coffman’s opponent. AFP’s president flew to Coffman’s district and personally knocked on doors on behalf of the group.
Further bad news: A Quinnipiac University poll showing 46 percent of voters would be less likely to vote for their member of Congress who votes for the bill. Overall, American voters disapprove of the plan by a margin of 56 to 17 percent, with 26 percent undecided, the poll found.
Another poll, conducted by Priorities USA, a Super PAC that supported Clinton, surveyed voters in battleground congressional districts. “After being told that their member of Congress supports the GOP bill, net voter support dropped from +12 to -21,” the survey found.
As of noon Friday, it appeared successful passage of the Republican health care overhaul, as written, was falling apart. A vote scheduled for around 3:30 p.m. Eastern never happened.
— Mark K Matthews (@mkmatthews) March 24, 2017
In a statement, Coffman said, “The House is one step in the process, and the Speaker’s framework is the beginning of a solution. We need to get a bill to the Senate, refine it, and finish our work. History will judge the party harshly if we don’t keep our word to repeal and replace the Obamacare disaster.”
National pundits had earlier taken note of the situation— and Coffman’s position in it.
Imagine if folks like Rep. Coffman vote for it and it doesn't even pass? Oof. https://t.co/lYEGDjmmdb
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) March 24, 2017
But those inside Colorado who have followed Coffman’s teflon ability to deflect challengers in a diverse district that became more favorable to Democrats in recent years might have a different take.
Coffman outperformed Trump by double digits and has crushed the 2 top D recruits for his seat. Guessing he feels he has breathing room. https://t.co/F3gnBqqjAC
— Nick Riccardi (@NickRiccardi) March 24, 2017
And Coffman might also have had a way out.
Coffman has an out. He said reason he's voting yes is for senate to fix. So, if it's not going to Senate, he could vote no.
— Michael Littwin (@mike_littwin) March 24, 2017
According to Vox.com, which has been tracking changes to the AHCA, the bill in its latest form kept “some of the provisions and structure” of Obamacare.
“Insurers still have to cover people with preexisting conditions, although they can charge more to people who have a break in insurance coverage,” Vox reports. “Children can still stay on their parents’ insurance until they turn 26. And the federal government still provides some help to people buying insurance coverage on the individual market.
But the bill also made “big changes that, overall, would make it harder for low-income people, especially older low-income people, to afford coverage,” Vox reports. “For people who are still able to buy health insurance, the coverage they get might leave out some crucial health services.”
On Thursday, the Colorado Cross-Disabilities Coalition sent a letter to Coffman signed by 30 social justice, health care, and disability-rights groups, about potential cuts to Medicaid under the AHCA.
The program covers covers 137,000 people with disabilities of all ages, of them 65,000 seniors, the letter read, adding, “in Fiscal Year 2015, Colorado received $4.45 billion from the federal government program, almost two-thirds of our total Medicaid budget.”
What Republicans in control of the House, Senate and presidency do next isn’t clear.
Kelsey Ray contributed to this story from Aurora.