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Trump, Pence lobby U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert in all-out effort to pass GOP health-care plan

U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, pictured here at a GOP election-night party in Bellevue last November, worries that a new executive order from President Donald Trump could open areas off Washington’s coast to oil drilling. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)

Personal lobbying by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have not swayed U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert to commit to voting for the beleaguered Republican health-care overhaul legislation.

The Trump administration has been appealing to moderate Republicans to rescue the GOP plan, which is teetering on the edge of a second high-profile defeat.

In an interview, Reichert, R-Auburn, said he spoke with Trump by phone for about 10 minutes Tuesday.

“I told the president I’d like to help, but I am not there yet,” Reichert said, citing worries about the legislation’s protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions, cuts to Medicaid and costs for middle-age Americans.

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Reichert is the second Republican holdout in Washington. U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Vancouver, has said she’d vote “no” on the GOP health plan.

While remaining officially in the undecided camp, Reichert said he has serious concerns with the latest version of the proposed American Health Care Act (AHCA) and is seeking further information and assurances about the bill’s effects as written.

“He (Trump) is trying to understand the concerns that members have raised,” Reichert said. “My impression is he was finding ways to address them. It was a very pleasant conversation, all business.

“I left it with, ‘I’d really like to support this bill, if it were able to meet the — solve the issues I have concerns over,’ ” Reichert said. “He said, ‘Great, thank you. I could really use your help.’ ”

In March, Reichert voted for an earlier version of the AHCA in the Ways and Means Committee, but he switched to undecided when the legislation approached a floor vote, citing changes made to the bill to appease conservatives.

A Congressional Budget Office report estimated that the original version would result in 24 million fewer people with health insurance by 2026, while reducing the federal budget deficit by $337 billion.

In addition to the phone call with Trump, Reichert said he met with Pence on Tuesday for about a half-hour regarding the bill. Earlier this week, he spoke with House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Reichert said he also was scheduled to talk with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, whose department would have major sway over implementation of any health-care bill.

Among Washington’s U.S. House members, only Reichert remains officially in the undecided column after months of debate and political wrangling over the GOP’s long-awaited effort to repeal — or at least vastly revise — the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The bill would rework subsidies for private insurance, limit federal spending on Medicaid for low-income people and cut taxes on the wealthy that finance Obamacare. It also would allow states to opt out of some regulations, including one that protects people with pre-existing medical conditions from facing steep insurance premiums.

Republicans in the House voted dozens of times to repeal Obamacare, but since seizing control of the Senate and White House, the GOP has so far failed to pass an alternative. An initial effort ended in an embarrassing defeat when Republican leaders withdrew the first AHCA bill just before a scheduled vote.

Herrera Beutler has said she opposes the latest GOP plan, citing concerns over health care for low-income children. Like Reichert, she has been lobbied by GOP leaders on the bill.

“Leadership has been reaching out to Jaime about the concerns she specifically raised about the bill a few weeks ago,” Amy Pennington, a spokeswoman for Herrera Beutler, said in an email. “She is still a ‘no’ on the bill until she can be positive that it will improve access to affordable quality health care, and that vulnerable children will be protected.”

Republican U.S. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane and Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside support the GOP plan.

All six of the state’s Democratic U.S. House members, as well as U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, remain opposed.

The GOP legislation would fail if 22 House Republicans voted no, assuming all Democrats are opposed. So far, according to an Associated Press count, at least 21 Republicans have said they’d vote no, with at least 11 undecided.

With every vote crucial, vote tallies, or “whip counts” are being kept by multiple media organizations and interest groups — and rumors have been flying about arm twisting and deal making.

On Tuesday afternoon, a congressional reporter for the liberal news website Huffington Post tweeted he thought he’d seen U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the GOP’s chief deputy whip, secure a commitment from Reichert to vote yes if the GOP was a few votes shy. “I can’t swear this is the case,” the reporter tweeted.

Reichert’s office immediately denied the report, saying his position hadn’t changed.

“The congressman just said that conversation did not happen,” Reichert’s spokeswoman, Breanna Deutsch, said in an email.

Despite the GOP’s struggles to find an alternative, Reichert said he still believes Obamacare has caused headaches for families and small businesses with doctor choice and costs.

“Obamacare is not perfect and there are some things in there that need to be changed,” he said.

Reichert said his chief worry is a continuing back and forth seesaw of partisan health-care overhauls, depending on which party is in power.

“You put America and American citizens and their health-care security in this roller coaster ride that I think is really disruptive — and that’s an understatement,” he said. “Let’s work together and fix things.”