WASHINGTON • United States House leaders have told Republican lawmakers that they plan to devote their energy this week to keeping the federal government open, conspicuously avoiding an immediate commitment to take up healthcare despite pledges to do so by conservatives and the White House.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, speaking on a conference call with Grand Old Party (GOP) members on Saturday, offered no specific plan on how or when lawmakers might see details of a new proposal to revise the Affordable Care Act, which White House officials promised would receive a vote by Wednesday.
Mr Ryan also made clear that his top priority was to pass a stopgap spending Bill to keep government open past Friday, when the existing spending measure expires, an objective that requires Democratic support. "Wherever we land will be a product the President can and will support," Mr Ryan said, according to a senior GOP aide on the call.
The call comes as Republican leaders find themselves trapped between proving that they can complete basic tasks of governing such as funding the government, while meeting the demands of President Donald Trump, who is looking for a legislative win ahead of his 100th day in office next Saturday.
Mr Ryan's comments suggested that he and other House Republicans have made the choice to focus on the former. He said, for instance, that the House will vote on a healthcare Bill when Republicans are sure they have the support to pass it, according to several GOP aides on the call - suggesting that he does not believe that to be the case currently, despite renewed negotiations between House conservatives, moderates and the White House.
Mr Trump and his top aides have been calling on Congress to take dramatic action in the coming week: vote on healthcare, take up tax reform and demand that Democrats agree to a stopgap spending measure that includes funding for a wall along the US- Mexico border.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said yesterday that talks between Republicans and Democrats in Congress could reach an agreement to avoid a government shutdown as early as Sunday, local time.
"The negotiations are ongoing and there's no reason we can't have an agreement there as early as today," Mulvaney said in an interview on Fox News yesterday.
Meanwhile, thousands of scientists and their supporters, feeling increasingly threatened by the policies of President Trump, gathered on Saturday in Washington for what they called the March for Science, abandoning a tradition of keeping the sciences out of politics and calling on the public to stand up for scientific enterprise.
The marchers trekked towards the capitol, with chants celebrating science: "Who runs the world? Nerds," and "If you like beer, thank yeast and scientists!"
Some carried signs that showed rising oceans and polar bears in peril and faces of famous scientists like Mae Jamison, Rosalind Franklin and Marie Curie.
Others touted a checklist of the diseases Americans no longer get, thanks to vaccines.
The March for Science evolved from a social media campaign into an effort to get people onto the streets. Its organisers were motivated by Mr Trump, who as a presidential candidate disparaged climate change as a hoax and cast suspicions on the safety of vaccines.
Their resolve deepened, they said, when the President appointed Cabinet members who seemed hostile to the sciences.
WASHINGTON POST, NEW YORK TIMES