With two Republican senators openly opposed to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s health-care bill, Trumpcare had zero margin for error. Now it is officially below zero, as senators Mike Lee and Jerry Moran have jointly announced their opposition on Monday night. That leaves McConnell two votes shy. In all probability, a bunch of other undecided Republicans will come out in opposition now.
This doesn’t mean the bill is dead. It does mean things get very, very hard. Lee says only that he cannot support “the current version,” which does not go far enough to suit his tastes. If McConnell pushes the bill further to the right, throwing more poor and sick people off their insurance, it would make it harder for him to win Republicans like Dean Heller, Lisa Murkowski, Shelley Moore Capito, and Rob Portman, who are concerned it already goes too far in rolling back coverage.
Moran’s statement goes further and is even more significant. “We must start fresh with an open legislative process,” he demands. An open legislative process is the exact opposite of McConnell’s strategy, which has emphasized secrecy and speed. Hearings and normal deliberation would not allow for a vote on the accelerated timeline McConnell requires to fit in other Republican priorities (passing a budget, cutting taxes). And they would expose his policy positions to public scrutiny, increasing the political pain of voting for cuts the public opposes and making it harder for him to depict the bill in contradictory ways.
Republican dissidents have made bold statements and backed down from them many times already in this process. But McConnell is simply running out of time to work Lee and Moran while still holding all the other votes in line that he needs.
Update: The floodgates are already opening.