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Republicans Advance Health Care Bill

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A lot of developing news this morning on Capitol Hill, and I mean really developing because an overnight debate in one House committee is still going. It's a debate over the Republican's new health care bill. That committee is expected to pass the bill on party lines as another committee did only after 18 hours of debate. Now, the other story - the Senate appears now to have a nominee to consider for an important job - U.S. ambassador to Russia. Fortunately, we have NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis to talk all this through with us. Sue, good morning.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So many news outlets reporting former Utah governor Jon Huntsman is the president's pick for ambassador to Moscow. NPR hasn't confirmed this yet, but what would he bring to the job?

DAVIS: Well, he has extensive foreign policy experience. If he if he is the pick, it would be his third ambassadorship. He's also served under the administrations of George H.W. Bush and President Obama. He was his ambassador to China. And while he does not necessarily have extensive foreign policy experience with Russia, he is someone that I think would be considered sort of a safe pick for this kind of a post.

GREENE: Safe pick, although is it a stretch to say that confirmation hearings about this job might be an opportunity for Democrats on Capitol Hill and others to - I don't know - ask some questions about Russia?

DAVIS: Yes. I mean, obviously his confirmation hearing would probably focus very heavily on the Trump administration's ties with Russia and his views on Russia. But when he was nominated to be President Obama's ambassador, he was approved unanimously by the Senate. So he would be - at the starting gate be considered pretty favorable for confirmation.

GREENE: OK. Let's now turn to the House. Two marathon committee hearings on the Republican's alternative to Obamacare; a lot of conversation we've had this week about some Republicans not really loving this bill; House Speaker Paul Ryan being in a tough spot. What happened? Have changes been made to this legislation?

DAVIS: There was no substantial changes made to the legislation. These committee hearings, in a lot of ways, are more about the minority. And this was really defined more by Democrats, and it was their first chance to sort of protest the bill and try and take a whack at it. There was some cheeky efforts to try and change the name through amendment to the Republican Pay More For Less Act, which obviously was defeated by Republicans.

They also tried to do things like enact provisions that said it couldn't take effect until it met Donald Trump's promises that it would cover more people for less. These were all votes sort of designed to fail. These are the kind of political votes you're likely to hear again in a political year in an election campaign. But yes, the core of the bill remains unchanged. It will repeal the individual mandate and replace it with a system of refundable tax credits and fundamentally rework the Medicaid system.

GREENE: Not to jump too far ahead, but how important would it be to actually get this bill to the White House?

DAVIS: You know, it is a very necessary step in how a bill becomes a law, and it's also a reminder that getting this passed is all on Republican shoulders. They're not going to get any Democratic support. And this has been a very emotional debate. I want you to hear just a little bit from Republicans on sort of making their case for why this is necessary. Let's take a listen to one Republican. This is Peter Roskam of Illinois.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PETER ROSKAM: The ACA has been a crushing disappointment based on the expectations and based on the hype that it was all going to be great. And so we've got a choice to make. We can either continue to marinate in something that is just underperforming or we can be courageous and we can move forward and we can be transformational.

GREENE: Sue, I mean, moving forward, being transformational, but it's possible here the Republicans would pass a bill very much like Democrats passed Obamacare - right? - without any support from the minority party. Do they risk the same kind of political blowback that Democrats saw?

DAVIS: Possibly, and we heard a lot about that yesterday as well. There was one Democrat - John Larson from Connecticut said we now just exist in this dynamic where one party exists to make sure the other side fails and then campaign against them. So there was a very, you know, sort of partisan, contentious nature to this debate, and that's going to continue. Next step, they're going to cobble this bill together. It's likely to get a vote in the House in the coming weeks. And we're waiting for a final take on how much it's going to cost and how many it will cover.

GREENE: No small questions there. OK. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Thanks, Sue.

DAVIS: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.