WASHINGTON — President Obama took his motorcade to Capitol Hill Wednesday to huddle with congressional Democrats about how to protect his signature legislative achievement from being dismantled.
The extraordinary meeting came as the incoming vice president, Mike Pence, held a similar strategy session with with Republicans across the Capitol. With President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration now just 16 days away, Republicans are laying the procedural groundwork to dismantle the the law known as Obamacare — the 2010 health insurance law that Obama has been able to protect only through his veto pen.
So with demise of Obamacare apparently a foregone conclusion, the question for both camps is what to replace it with — and who should get the blame for the inevitable disruption.
"Now Republicans in Congress are like the dog who caught the bus," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said after meeting with Obama. "They can repeal, but they have nothing to put in its place."
It was Obama's first trip to Capitol Hill since his final State of the Union Address a year ago — and likely his last as president before he escorts President-elect Donald Trump to the Capitol for his inauguration on Jan. 20. He departed after nearly two hours, ignoring reporters' questions and instead posing for a photo with Senate pages.
Members who attended the closed-door meeting said Obama rallied Democrats to make sure Americans know the consequences of repealing the law. "He has encouraged us to fight, which we made clear we were already going to do," said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.
But Obama has also said Democrats should work with Republicans if they have ideas about how to make the existing system better.
"The president has long been open to the idea that if there are Republicans who are genuinely interested in reforming the Affordable Care Act in a way that would strengthen the program, the president would be strongly supportive of that effort," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday. "But that's not what Republicans have."
Obama walked into the closed-door meeting in the Capitol Visitors Center auditorium flanked by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Tweeting from the sidelines, President-elect Trump suggested that Republicans should show no mercy.
"Republicans must be careful in that the Dems own the failed Obamacare disaster, with its poor coverage and massive premium increases," Trump tweeted. "Also, deductibles are so high that it is practically useless. Don't let the Schumer clowns out of this web."
Schumer's response: "I think Republicans should stop clowning around with peoples Medicare, Medicaid and health care."
Both chambers of Congress teed up repeal legislation on Tuesday, the first day of the new 115th Congress.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., introduced a budget resolution that would pave the way for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, with a vote coming as early as next week. Also Tuesday, the House passed a rules package paving the way for a repeal vote.
Republican leaders are using a procedural tactic called budget reconciliation, which requires only a simple majority of lawmakers to repeal the law. The process requires only 51 votes in the Senate and 218 in the House. Republicans hold 52 seats in the Senate and 241 in the House.
The tactic prevents the possibility of a filibuster, but can be used only once a year. So if Republicans repeal the law without a replacement, it could be months or years before Congress is able to agree on a replacement health care law.