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After Failing To Replace Obamacare, What Do Republicans Do Next?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's continue this conversation and bring in a conservative voice on these latest developments. It's Matthew Continetti. He's in our Washington studios. He's the editor of the publication The Washington Free Beacon. He's been on our program before. Matt, welcome back.

MATTHEW CONTINETTI: Hi, David. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: So who do you hold responsible here for this unraveling of the GOP bill?

CONTINETTI: I think it's pretty clear. I hold senators Lee and Moran responsible. They're the ones who broke the bloc of votes that Mitch McConnell had up until late last night.

GREENE: Do you understand their concerns, though, suggesting that this bill did not go far enough and that they did not feel like it was truly taking - repealing Obamacare and replacing it as something different?

CONTINETTI: Oh, I totally understand their concerns. I mean, the argument, of course, is that, you know, are you willing to accept half a loaf now in order to get, perhaps, the full loaf down the road? And there are many Republicans - not just in the Senate, but also in the House - who are not. And this is something that the Republican caucus and the country in general has been dealing with for many years since the Tea Party elections in 2010.

GREENE: Are you suggesting that senators should have held on to keep this bloc together, rather than act on their own principles and views?

CONTINETTI: Well, no. I'm not suggesting at all. Obviously, you can live by your principles. What I'm saying is I think the argument from the leadership and the argument from many conservative senators was that this is probably the best realistic possible bill from a conservative perspective. It had a Medicaid reform that the left is apoplectic about. It had reforms to health savings accounts.

It had the controversial yet interesting from a center-right perspective freedom option by Senator Cruz. And it had a one-year defund of Planned Parenthood. All of these things I think made it attractive to many conservatives. For Senator Rand Paul, of course, who's leading this bloc, and senators Lee and Moran, it didn't go far enough. And that's what sank the bill for now.

GREENE: Let me ask you about a different narrative. Maybe it was not two senators to blame for the unraveling here, but perhaps it was the reality that the solutions that Republicans were coming up with were just not popular among Americans. I mean, when Republicans began talking about, you know, getting rid of Obamacare - I mean, a lot of Americans supported that idea. At the moment, Obamacare seems to be growing in popularity. The Republican idea is we're not getting a lot of support. Could this all be a reflection of that? Senators just weren't feeling the pressure, the public pressure to push this bill?

CONTINETTI: Maybe. I mean, I don't think that's the reasoning behind Mike Lee and Jerry Moran. And they're the two votes that have effectively sunk the bill. The bill isn't popular. One of the reasons the bill isn't popular is that Republicans have not argued for it, none - no one has. And this is a big problem.

GREENE: Which doesn't say a lot about the bill, probably.

CONTINETTI: Well, it doesn't say a lot about the Republicans on health care. And the fact is that Republicans have always had trouble with the health care issue. And they've never really come - been able to agree on what they want to do. Do they really want a consumer-oriented health care system? Do they simply want to repeal Obamacare and move on?

Or, in the case of many moderate Republicans such as Senators Collins and Murkowski and Portman, do they want to - and, of course, Dean Heller, who we're also looking at from Nevada - do they want to keep the Medicaid expansion because it's good financially for their states? It was that lack of consensus, I think, that drove the absence of any affirmative argument for these reforms. And that, for sure, contributed to the bill's collapse right now.

GREENE: Lack of consensus, lack of unity. Does that make you worry about your party right now?

CONTINETTI: No because the health care lack of consensus I mentioned has been longstanding. Republicans are very uncomfortable talking about health care. They always have been. It's not their issue. Unfortunately, they promised to their voters and to the country for six years that they would be repealing this legislation - which, by the way, their opposition to aided in their victories in 2010 and 2014 and, arguably, even in 2016.

So, it's a problem. But there's a chance that they're much - they will be much more unified on just the straight-up repeal bill which they voted for - many - all these people voted for just in 2015. And then, of course, I actually think when you get to something - an issue like taxes, judges, deregulation - there is much more unity because these are more traditionally Republican, conservative issues.

GREENE: I'm really struck, though, that you're suggesting Republicans are so-called better at other issues like taxes. You say health care is not their issue. I mean, are you saying that Americans should trust Democrats on health care more than they trust Republicans?

CONTINETTI: No. That's - again, that's not what I'm saying at all. What I'm saying is that the Republicans have an advantage - a political advantage - on those issues, just like Democrats have a political advantage on health care. It's not necessarily to say that they're substantively better on the issue. As a conservative, I don't think that's the case. But there's just - for sure, politically, the Democrats have led with health care. And the Republicans have led with tax cuts. And so when you have a Republican majority have to deal with the issue of health care, it puts them in knots, which is what - exactly what we're seeing.

GREENE: OK, speaking with Matthew Continetti, who is the editor-in-chief of The Washington Free Beacon. Matt, thanks for coming in, as always. We really appreciate it.

CONTINETTI: Thanks, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF HERBIE HANCOCK'S "CHAMELEON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.