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Week In Politics: The Fate Of The Latest Effort To Replace The Affordable Care Act


So that is the latest from Capitol Hill. We're going to have some more perspective on health care now and the rest of the week in politics. To do that, we are joined by Univision anchor Leon Krauze, who is here at NPR West with me. Hey there, Leon.

LEON KRAUZE: Pleasure to be with you.

MCEVERS: And Guy Benson, political editor of townhall.com, who is in D.C. Hi, Guy.

GUY BENSON: Good to be here. Thank you.

MCEVERS: So let's talk more about Graham-Cassidy here. I mean this is the most comprehensive undoing of Obamacare yet. And yet as we just heard, it probably doesn't have the votes that it needs to pass. This would be the third time Republicans have gotten so close to the finish line and not crossed it after promising over and over and on the campaign trail to end Obamacare. And Guy, I want to ask you first. If Republicans don't have the votes, do you think they'll go ahead and put it up for a vote anyway just to get on the record who voted for and against it?

BENSON: I don't think so, probably not this time. I think that went down a couple months ago, and I'm not convinced Mitch McConnell wants to go through that all over again. My suspicion is with McCain's announcement today, the bill is dead. I just don't see where they can come up with 50 votes because if he's a no and Rand Paul sounds like he's really dug in his heels as a no, you're right two already. And I will eat my hat if Susan Collins, you know, gallops to the rescue here and votes yes. There's just - it's not conceivable.

So this is another dead end unless they're able to tweak the bill in significant ways over the weekend if they're - if they have this eye towards their September 30 deadline where their reconciliation authority expires according to some, including the Senate parliamentarian, which is what matters. If people's eyes are glazing over, I apologize. But that's why it's been...

MCEVERS: Rules and procedures, yes.

BENSON: ...Sort of - that's why this has been such a time crunch for the GOP.

MCEVERS: Right, right. They had a deadline of the end of the month. And before we move on to what could happen next, I mean I do want to talk about this bill a little bit - right? - with you, Leon. I mean this - it was seen as the most conservative option out there, the least amount of federal spending, much more power to the states. If Republicans don't have the votes to pass a bill like that, what does it tell us about their agenda and how it's resonating with conservative voters?

KRAUZE: Well, first of all, I think McCain's defense of bipartisanship and his critique of his colleagues' impatience is admirable. The fact is a majority of Americans in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll - a majority of liberal and moderate voters, a majority of young voters 18 to 49, a majority of minority voters - all of those people want health care either expanded or kept the same.

Only conservative voters - 60 percent - and Trump voters - 69 percent - want it replaced. So my question is, will Republicans insist in governing solely for their base or actually a sliver of their base and risk upsetting the American electorate at large? I think that's a big question. I just hope they don't.

MCEVERS: I mean, Guy, you know, I want to put this to you a little bit, you know, given the numbers but also just this idea of, like, federalism and a fiscal conservatism. Where does it stand right now with something like this failing three times?

BENSON: It's a good question. I'm not exactly sure where the party is. And the idea that this was the most conservative attempted Obamacare repeal - I'm not sure if I agree with that.


BENSON: But what I have seen is based on everything that's happened over the last number of months, I don't think the Republicans have 50 votes for anything. I mean "skinny repeal," quote, unquote - remember that one.


BENSON: That did very little in terms of undoing Obamacare, and they still couldn't get to 50 on that. So this is obviously good news today for the Democrats. It's good news for many Americans who benefit from the - from Obamacare. But it also is terrible news for millions of Americans who are being actively harmed by this law.

This is not just a campaign promise that Republicans made for seven years for no reason. This is a harmful law to many people, and they won 3 out of the last 4 elections with this as a central promise, which they are dangerously close to abandoning at least for the foreseeable future.

MCEVERS: So let's talk about what - you know, the possibilities going forward and the possibility for bipartisanship. This was obviously, as we heard, something that was very important to John McCain. It was important in his decision. Do you think there is a future for changes to Obamacare, and will that future be bipartisan, Leon?

KRAUZE: I think the only way forward is - should be bipartisanship not only when it comes to health care but when it comes to immigration reform as well. The door is now open to fix the problem that the DREAMers have faced for a long, long time. I think now that - one of the issues that the DREAMers themselves are facing is whether or not they will accept a solution that might include some draconian measures with regards to immigration. And I think the answer when we ask ourselves, will they, the answer might be no.

I mean you saw what happened with Nancy Pelosi last Monday in San Francisco, how she was interrupted. The DREAMers I've interviewed - and I've interviewed (laughter) lots of them - have clearly told me time and time again they will not stand for anything that is not what they call the clean DREAM Act. That means the DREAM Act plus nothing, just the DREAM Act. They want what is known as a clean DREAM Act legislation that is bound by nothing else but their own path to legislation. And this is a very disciplined, determined and sometimes stubborn group of people.

MCEVERS: Yeah. I mean, Guy, we're talking about, you know, bipartisanship possibly on immigration, possibly on health care. President Trump has already talked to Democrats about the debt limit and Harvey aid. I mean does this mean we could be entering this new era of bipartisanship? And also, what do you think could be the way forward for the DREAM Act?

BENSON: Well, on DACA and the DREAM Act, I think a clean DREAM Act is not going to happen. I talked to Paul Ryan a couple weeks ago about this, and he said there's zero appetite among congressional Republicans who run Congress to just put through a clean DREAM Act with no border enforcement, no immigration security as sort of tacked onto the bill. That is a compromise that I think a lot of Democrats even are willing to talk about. And I think that what we might end up seeing is maybe some additional border agents hired, maybe some fencing.

You may remember the Gang of Eight compromise that went nowhere in the House but passed the Senate a couple years ago. That included 700 miles of fencing. That might be something where the Republicans can say, look; you Democrats - every single Senate Democrat voted for that just a few years ago. That's something that we want to attach to the DREAM Act, and maybe Trump can call it the wall if he wants to. So I think that there is a way forward on the DREAM Act. It has to include enforcement as well, or else it's a nonstarter on the Republican side.

MCEVERS: Leon, do you think it's a good idea for DREAMers to say, we - only a clean DREAM Act and nothing else?

KRAUZE: I don't think it is, but I think they have a point when they point out that the clean DREAM Act plus tougher border enforcement is one thing. DREAM Act and RACE Act is a completely different matter, and I think that there are some Republicans in Congress like Senator Cotton, for example, who would like to tie the DREAM Act - legalization for DREAMers - with his very draconian, very draconian RACE act. I think that we have to see what's put on the floor, what the proposal is. But I think that the DREAMers are right at least in acting with caution this time around, as they have for a while.

MCEVERS: That's Leon Krauze, a Univision anchor, and Guy Benson, political editor of townhall.com. Thanks to both of you.

BENSON: Thank you.

KRAUZE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MATT KIVEL'S "TWINS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.