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Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee joined 13 other Republican senators Tuesday in a sit-down with President Donald Trump to discuss health-care reform and the latest draft of the GOP legislation to repeal Obamacare.
"I appreciate what you're doing to come out with a bill that's going to be a phenomenal bill to the people of our country: generous, kind, with heart," Trump said.
During his address at the White House intended to focus on insurance coverage but stretched to include mention of the economy, manufacturing, tax reform and infrastructure the president applauded the lawmakers for working "very, very hard" to revise the bill passed in the House early last month to dismantle former President Barack Obama's landmark Affordable Care Act.
Though he had celebrated its passage as a "great plan," Trump called the House bill "mean" during the Tuesday meeting, congressional sources told The Associated Press. He had worse words for his predecessor's plan, calling Obamacare a "disaster" and "a broken promise."
Still, no matter what the Republican-controlled Congress writes up to replace it even if it's "the greatest health bill or tax cut ever in our country's history" Trump lamented that not one Democratic legislator would vote for it.
"But Republicans in Congress, as hard as they're working, you have the Democrats on the other side who truly have become obstructionists," he said, sitting at a table that included Vice President Mike Pence and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
Republicans long have bashed the Affordable Care Act for its passage without a single GOP vote.
Despite his swipe at partisanship, Trump encouraged the GOP senators to continue to fix the House bill, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates would leave 23 million more Americans uninsured by 2026 than if Obamacare were to stay intact.
The Senate has remained quiet, though, on its plan. It's unclear when the revisions will be completed (Trump said only that "we're very close"), and there has been no public release of the bill's details. Both Hatch and Lee were unavailable for comment after the White House luncheon Tuesday.
Hatch's spokesman, Matt Whitlock, said the senator appreciated meeting with Trump.
"There was a robust discussion involving the Senate's current work to rescue the American people from the failures of Obamacare," Whitlock said. "As this was a private lunch, the senator prefers to leave the specifics of the discussion private, but nonetheless was very pleased at the opportunity to meet with the president and discuss this critical issue."
Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri has criticized Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a key player in modifying the health-care legislation, for not being more transparent in the process.
"Will there be a hearing on the health-care proposal?" she asked during a committee meeting Thursday. Hatch seemed astounded by the question and didn't respond until an aide whispered a comment to him. McCaskill went on to say that she has "no idea of what's being proposed."
"There's a group of guys in a backroom somewhere that are making these decisions," she said.
Hatch has stood by the bill and told Talking Points Memo on Monday that "we're not worried" about releasing the legislation to the public as much as "getting it together" for a majority vote.
Lee has been much less enthusiastic about the direction of the Senate's plan. During a Sunday appearance on ABC News' "This Week," Lee said he has "some grave concerns about what we're doing so far." Though he indicated it's unclear what the bill will ultimately look like, he worries about the impact on the economy if "we don't get in the right direction."
"If we bring forward something that doesn't repeal Obamacare and doesn't bring down the cost of health care, that's probably something I won't be able to vote for," he said.
Lee has spoken with Trump's administration at least twice before during negotiations for previous iterations of the GOP measure. He left those meetings vexed and discouraged.