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Gohmert, Weber among holdouts as House postpones health bill vote

A landmark Republican overhaul to the country's health care system may have died in its track Thursday. Three Texas Republicans were among those pushing for changes to the bill before agreeing to support it.

President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of Congress in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 28, 2017.

Editor's note: This story has been updated througout.

WASHINGTON – Republican leaders in the U.S. House officially conceded Thursday afternoon what most observers already knew: They did not have the votes to pass a major overhaul of President Obama's 2010 health care law. 

House leaders pushed back a much-anticipated floor vote on the issue until Friday morning, in a high-stakes gamble to pass a major revamp of the nation's health care industry.

"I think it's going to pass," said U.S. Rep. John R. Carter of Round Rock, with the caveat that he thought the overnight whip process would be "a struggle."

The process got somewhat easier on Thursday when two Republicans, U.S. Rep. Joe Barton of Ennis and Michael McCaul of Austin moved into the affirmative column. The Dallas Morning News reported McCaul's change of heart from undecided to yes.

"I don't have a comment other than I am glad Donald Trump got elected president so that we have a chance to bring an end to Obamacare," said the fiercest GOP holdout of the delegation, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler.

Early in the day, members and staffers close to leadership were predicting a late evening vote on the bill. The vote deficit, constantly charging, was minimal, they insisted.

But by the afternoon, it was clear the legislation was in severe jeopardy. 

Twice on Thursday, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan postponed his weekly news conference. Those two moments were widely interpreted as a tell that he did not have the votes. Soon after his second delay, leadership confirmed to several news outlets they would not have a vote on the House floor Thursday night. 

According to several news reports Thursday afternoon, Trump sent an emissary, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to convey to House Republicans that the president would drop the overhaul if they did not pass a bill on Friday.

Texas Republicans for the most part were prepared to back the bill. In a delegation rife with committee chairmen and allies of leadership, most fell in line behind Ryan. Some were even excited to vote for repeal. Democrats were lined up against the proposal.

A Democratic member told the Tribune that their caucus was instructed to stay in town at least through Friday. Sources from both parties said that members were anticipating the possibility of continued negotiations and votes through the weekend.

But it was the replacement angle that tore the Republican conference apart. Some viewed the current proposal as leaving far too much of the Obama-era overhaul in place.

With no Democratic support, Republicans had a narrow margin of error in pushing the bill through the chamber. There were three Texas holdouts: U.S. Reps. Joe Barton of Ennis, Louie Gohmert of Tyler and Randy Weber of Friendswood. All three are members of a group called the Freedom Caucus who have bedeviled GOP vote counters for years.

Freedom Caucus members, including Barton and Gohmert, attended an intense negotiation with President Trump earlier on Thursday, an effort to salvage Thursday's vote. Hours later, House Republicans pulled the bill. 

In the minutes after the vote cancelation news broke, Capitol Hill insiders were at a loss about what will happen next. 

Republican members, staffers and consultants throughout the week would hardly entertain the idea that the Thursday vote would be canceled. By the afternoon, they were bracing for that lost legislative momentum to derail other agenda items, most notably tax reform.

Yet others noted that there were many times in 2009 and 2010 in which the Democratic push for a health care overhaul appeared dead. 

Late Thursday afternoon, after it was clear that a vote wasn't going to happen that evening, Gohmert entered Ryan's office for a meeting between leadership and the Freedom Caucus.

"We've laid out our requests," he told reporters as he rushed by. 

Barton said Thursday evening that his opposition to the overhaul had mostly dissipated.

"If the bill were to have come to the floor ... I would have been a yes," he said, with the condition that a series of mandates on health insurance companies like mental health and maternity care were repealed from the bill.

Barton did not attend the meeting between Freedom Caucus members and leadership and White House officials. He expressed optimism that consensus was still possible.

"There are problems — but solvable problems. I think we will get a bill, I just don't know when," he said.

Barton predicted that a conference-wide meeting later in the night would include a "lot of hugging and back-patting and butt-kicking and hopefully at the end, a come to Jesus."

"Democracy's messy," he added.

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Congress Health care Joe Barton Louie Gohmert Randy Weber Texas congressional delegation