By Jeff Mason and Yasmeen Abutaleb | WASHINGTON
President Donald Trump made calls to fellow Republicans in the U.S. Senate on Friday to mobilize support for their partys healthcare overhaul while acknowledging the legislation is on a very, very narrow path to passage.
Five Republican senators have announced they will not support the bill, which is designed to repeal and replace Obamacare, in its current form.
White House officials said on Friday that Trump has been in touch with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and made calls on Thursday and Friday to other lawmakers.
Trumps role is expected to become more pronounced in coming days as the vote nears. Senate Republican leaders may rely on the deal-making former businessman to lean on conservative senators who are balking at the bill.
Were pleasantly surprised with a lot of the support thats already come out and I think well continue to work through (it,) in particular the four individuals who have expressed some ideas and concerns, White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters at a White House briefing.
After Spicer spoke, Republican Senator Dean Heller became the fifth Republican opponent on Friday, saying he would not support the bill in its current form. Stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average pared gains after his announcement.
This bill thats currently in front of the United States Senate is not the answer, Heller said at a news conference.
That could add Hellers name to Trumps call list. A White House official said the Trump has pushed his team to stay involved and plans to flex his negotiating muscle, the official said.
The Senates 142-page proposal, worked out in secret by a group led by McConnell, aims to deliver on a central Trump campaign promise to undo former President Barack Obamas signature healthcare law, which has provided coverage to 20 million Americans since it was passed in 2010.
Republicans view the law, formally known as the Affordable Care Act, as a costly government intrusion and say individual insurance markets created by it are collapsing.
On Thursday, four of the Senates most conservative members said the new plan failed to rein in the federal governments role.
Rand Paul, who has rejected the plan along with fellow Republican Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Ron Johnson, said fundamental problems remained that would leave taxpayers subsidizing health insurance companies.
Trump, in an interview with Fox News that aired on Friday morning, called the group of conservative lawmakers four very good people.
Its not that theyre opposed, he said. Theyd like to get certain changes. And well see if we can take care of that.
Trump said getting approval would require traveling a very, very narrow path but that But I think were going to get there.
Trump took an active role as the House of Representatives worked on its own healthcare bill, holding regular meetings with representatives at the White House as it made its way through numerous committees. He celebrated its narrow passage last month in a Rose Garden event with House Republican leaders.
Trump later criticized the House bill privately as mean and this week called for a health plan with heart. He indicated the Senate plan met that request.
McConnell said in an interview with Reuters last month that he told Trump early on in the process that he did not need his help but that there may be a role for him later.
The Senate bill maintains much of the structure of the Houses but differs in key ways. It would phase out Obamacares expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor more gradually, waiting until after the 2020 presidential election, but would enact deeper cuts starting in 2025. It also would provide more generous tax subsidies than the House bill to help low-income people buy private insurance.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell, Yasmeen Abutaleb, Caroline Humer, Lewis Krauskopf and Susan Heavey; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Bill Trott)
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