Trump warns Republicans: Don't be 'fools' on health care vote

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said Trump visited to "close the deal."

March 21, 2017, 3:06 PM

— -- President Trump delivered a warning to House Republicans this morning: don't be "fools" and kill the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

For roughly 40 minutes, the president huddled with the Republican conference behind closed doors, delivering what his aides described as a final sales pitch ahead of Thursday's expected House floor vote on the American Health Care Act (AHCA).

Multiple members in the room told ABC News the president said they will lose seats in the 2018 midterm elections if they don't follow through and pass the AHCA, a sentiment repeated later Tuesday by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

"I think there's going to be a price to be paid," Spicer said. “It will be with their own voters. They'll have to go back and explain why they made a commitment to them and then didn't follow through."

One source added that the president said if Republicans don't stick together they're "fools." The message, seen by some participants as meant in jest rather than as a threat, did signal that the president supports Speaker Paul Ryan's view that the Thursday vote is a defining moment for the party.

"We had a great meeting and I think we’re going to get a winner vote," Trump told reporters as he left the meeting. "It was a great meeting, we have terrific people and they want a tremendous healthcare plan -- and that’s what we have. And there are going to be adjustments, but I think we’ll get the vote on Thursday."

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said that the president was there "to do what he does best and that is to close the deal."

"He is all-in and we are all-in to end this Obamacare nightmare," said Ryan.

Many Republicans emerged from the session and described to ABC News that Trump's visit was pulling at their heartstrings.

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., said that it is powerful when the president visits Capitol Hill and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said the meeting may not have changed minds but it did change hearts.

Members said that one target of Trump's attention was Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. Meadows has been among those in most ardent opposition to the Trump and Ryan-backed bill. The president reportedly asked Meadows to stand and joked about whether or not he'd have to "come after him," one member said, if Meadows did not back the bill.

The president reportedly asked other individuals members who had recently been swayed to back the bill to stand and be recognized. Lawmakers leaving the room said the president made wink-and-nod comments about how, where and for whom he may choose to campaign down the road depending on their votes.

The president's confidence in his ability to get the bill passed was in full view even before the meeting, as he arrived on Capitol Hill. Asked by ABC News if he can get the votes, the president paused and said "I think so" and gave a thumbs up when pressed again on the bill's passage.

Later this afternoon, Trump will meet with the "Tuesday Group" of moderate Republicans at the White House.

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