Trumpcare charm offensive gets under way
President Donald Trump launched an all-out charm offensive targeting opposition within his own Republican Party as he sought to secure the repeal and replacement of Obamacare.
In a critical early test of his ability to fulfil his campaign promises Mr Trump planned to head to various states and hold football stadium rallies as he seeks to overhaul President Barack Obama's controversial signature healthcare policy.
A bill to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, cleared its first hurdle in Congress when it was passed by the House Ways and Means Committee at 4.17am following a marathon 18-hour session.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee also sat through the night as Democrats sought to delay passage of the bill with arcane procedural tactics.
But the most significant opposition came from the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative Republican politicians in Congress.
They believe the plan, known as The American Health Care Act and dubbed 'Trumpcare', does not go far enough in dismantling Obamacare.
Conservative critics called it 'Obamacare lite' and 'Obamacare 2.0' and 'Rinocare', referring to the acronym for 'Republican in name only'.
Tom Cotton, a Republican senator from Arkansas, said: "The bill can't pass the Senate without major changes. Start over."
Groups backed by Charles and David Koch, the billionaire Republican donors, also savaged it, and some members of the Tea Party movement said they felt "lied to".
Rand Paul, the Republican senator from Kentucky, called the bill "dead on arrival" and introduced his own rival one in the Senate.
There was unconfirmed speculation that Mr Trump would travel to Kentucky as soon as this weekend as part of his campaign to persuade Mr Paul and other Republican opponents of the plan.
Mr Trump invited members of the House Freedom Caucus to the White House next week to eat pizza and use its bowling alley.
His charm offensive also included having dinner at the White House with Senator Ted Cruz and his wife Heidi, with whom he clashed in the presidential election.
Mr Trump sought to convince Mr Cruz, who does not believe the healthcare bill can pass the Senate in its current form, to bring his colleagues on board.
Republican senator Lindsey Graham said Mr Trump was "in a deal-making mode" and being "very charming".
Obamacare enabled 20 million previously uninsured people to obtain health coverage but the cost of health insurance premiums spiralled.
The replacement would end financial penalties for people who do not have health insurance, reverse most Obamacare taxes, and end the expansion of the Medicaid health insurance programme for the poor.
It would introduce a system of tax credits instead of the current income-based support, but preserve the Obamacare provision for people with pre-existing conditions to obtain insurance. The plan's cost remains unknown.
Mr Trump has warned of an electoral "bloodbath" if Republicans fail to pass healthcare reform.
Paul Ryan, the House Speaker who is pushing the legislation, said: "This is the closest we will ever get to repealing and replacing Obamacare. The time is here, the time is now. This is the moment. It is a binary choice."
Republicans, who control the House and the Senate, want to see a vote in both houses by mid-April.
They can afford to lose 21 dissenting Republicans out of the 237 in the House.
But to pass in the Senate they can only afford to lose three of their 52 senators.
The American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and other hospital and patient groups have come out strongly against the bill, saying it will result in more people not having health insurance.
Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, said: "Trumpcare is a loser for just about all of America unless you're in the top 1pc."
Meanwhile, America appeared to be warming to Melania Trump as a new poll showed the first lady is now more popular than her husband.
Mrs Trump's latest approval rating stood at 52pc, surging 16 points from the day Mr Trump was sworn in on January 20. The president's approval rating is currently 45pc, according to CNN/ORC. (© Daily Telegraph London)