Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul marched to the House side of the Capitol Thursday morning, knocked on a locked door and demanded to see a copy of the House’s bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which he believed was being kept under lock and key.
Aides in the room told the senator — before dozens of reporters in a crowded hallway — that there was no bill to see. In fact, it wasn’t the room where GOP members of the Energy and Commerce Committee were told to meet with staff to review the current draft of their bill at all. But that did little to dissuade Paul, openly critical to the House Republican leadership’s preferred path on the process, from making his underlying point.
“This should be an open and transparent process,” Paul said. “This is being presented as if it were a national secret, as if this was a plot to invade another country, as if this were national security. That’s wrong.”
Paul ventured to the House Thursday afternoon after reports surfaced that House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee were being granted an opportunity to review the current draft of the Obamacare repeal legislation and ask questions behind closed doors.
Opposed to the House legislation’s principles, Paul said he wanted to see the bill himself even though he didn’t serve on the committee.
“I’m not allowed to read the working product so I can comment on it?” he said.
Outside the small House office, the chaotic scene continued with a handful of Democrats demanding they, too, see the legislation, which aides continued to say was not even in the room. Two Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, asked aides if the bill was ready, only to be rebuffed.
“I want to see the bill. I want to read the bill,” New York Democrat Paul Tonko said, noting that as far as he knew, Republicans were still planning to move forward with a markup on the legislation next week.
At one point, the GOP staff allowed Hoyer, Rep. Joe Kennedy and a dozen or so reporters into the room to inspect it themselves. It was, in fact, bill-less.
Hoyer proceeded to hold an impromptu news conference near a bust of President Abraham Lincoln a few feet away from the misidentified room. He then held an imaginary conversation with the 16th president about what Hoyer said was the poor state of the Republican Party.
Rep. Greg Walden, the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, downplayed perceptions of secrecy in a statement Thursday.
“Reports that the Energy and Commerce Committee is doing anything other than the regular process of keeping its members up to speed on latest developments in its jurisdictions are false. Simply put, Energy and Commerce majority members and staff are continuing to discuss and refine draft legislative language on issues under our committee’s jurisdiction.”
Leadership has taken a new level of caution with Obamacare repeal and replace reconciliation drafts after a leaked version of the bill in progress was circulated to news outlets last week.
House aides told CNN that the review process was simply part of regular procedure of giving their members an opportunity to review the current draft and ask committee staff questions. The committee — along with a second panel responsible for the repeal legislation — is tentatively shooting to consider their respective pieces of legislation as soon as next week.
The leaked draft — which aides say was outdated — drew condemnations from conservatives who pledged to oppose any final bill and set off a new round of internal divisions that threatened to endanger the repeal process before it even gets off the ground.