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Republicans cancel Thursday Health Care vote

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BY LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, NBC News

(NBC News) - House Republican leaders abruptly canceled a planned vote on the GOP health care bill Thursday afternoon as they struggled to find sufficient support to pass it. A House GOP leadership aid confirmed to NBC News there would be no vote before Friday.

The move came after House conservatives said there was no deal struck on the bill after a meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House Thursday.

Rep. Mark Meadows R.-N.C., chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told reporters that there was no deal after the meeting but added he was still hopeful there can be one struck. "I am very hopeful we can find a way to yes," Meadows said.

House Budget Committee Chairman Kevin Brady said that negotiations with members are ongoing. "We continue to work on the legislation, we are determined to get it right," he said, adding, "we're open to improvements" on the bill.

After the meeting, the White House provided a readout of the meeting, saying that the president "thanked the group for their willingness to work closely with the White House and their colleagues in Congress to craft the strongest possible bill. The group agreed that their ultimate goal is to implement a system that will drive down costs and increase access to healthcare for millions of Americans. This meeting was a positive step toward that goal."

House leaders and various Republican factions worked late into the night Wednesday to work out a deal for the American Health Care Act that would appease enough moderates and conservatives to pass but remain short on votes to pass the measure.

There are currently 30 Republicans who say they will not vote for the Trump-backed legislation. Among the latest is Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., who put out a release Thursday morning stating her opposition.

"While I appreciate this week's effort by Speaker Ryan and his leadership team to better protect older Americans from health care cost increases, the difficulties this bill would create for millions of children were left unaddressed," Herrera Beutler said in a statement.

House Speaker Paul Ryan huddled with moderate Republicans Wednesday night for two-and-a-half hours over pizza and snacks to hash out a way to move forward. But as rank-and-file members filed out, many taking a back way to avoid the press, revealing little, there were indications that the negotiations had not gone well.

Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Penn., released a statement after the meeting, announcing that he'd vote "no."

"I believe this bill, in its current form, will lead to the loss of coverage and make insurance unaffordable for too many Americans, particularly for low-to-moderate income and older individuals," Dent said.

The opposition from Herrera and Dent helped push NBC's tally of Republicans against, or leaning against, the bill to 30 — higher than it was two days ago.

Speaker Ryan presented the group with the demands of conservative Republicans who have also been holding out over different concerns and asked what would be "acceptable," according to a source in the room.

The tenor of the negotiations changed Wednesday evening after the White House, responsible for negotiating with the conservatives while Ryan was tasked with the moderates, told critical members that they'd consider their demands. Those demands include removing the Essential Health Benefits, which requires insurance plans to cover a minimum number of services including maternity care, emergency room care, hospitalization and mental health care and more.

House leadership has been reluctant to include the main changes that the conservatives want because of Senate rules that are very particular in the contents of the bill. The reason Republicans are passing the health care bill this is way is so that they can do it with a simple majority instead of the usual 60-vote margin that would require Democratic support.

"It is our leadership team that has set an arbitrary deadline — we are happy to keep working with the white house and the leadership team but we don't think the arbitrary deadline of (Thursday) really means anything," said Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., who is voting against the bill unless desired changes are made.

The intense negotiations come as outside groups are putting more pressure on lawmakers. The Charles and David Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners have reserved "seven figures" to reward members who oppose the bill. The development comes as President Donald Trump told Republicans a day earlier that they'd be lose their seats if they voted against the Republican plan. And another conservative group, Club for Growth, is running television ads in some Republican districts to push members to vote against it.

Members of the Freedom Caucus are heading back to the White House again Thursday for more talks ahead of a vote still slated to happen early this evening.

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