WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump's much-vaunted negotiating skills were put to the test on Wednesday as he held last-ditch talks to convince Republican lawmakers to vote for his health care reforms -- but a victory was far from certain.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives votes on Thursday on a key plank of Trump's legislative agenda -- his plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, his predecessor's crowning domestic policy achievement.
With Democrats opposed and his own party's right flank in revolt, Trump brought in wavering lawmakers to try to tip the scales in his favor.
"Big day for healthcare. Working hard!" Trump tweeted.
Insiders say Trump's meetings have been focused less on specifics than on the politics of "Trumpcare" being defeated -- an outcome that would be a humiliating defeat for the billionaire leader at the start of his term.
For years, Republicans have promised to overturn Obama's reform, describing it as government overreach. But some lawmakers have balked at their own party's plan, saying it's still too costly for the government.
Others worry that their constituents will no longer be able to afford health insurance -- a nonpartisan congressional budget estimate says 14 million Americans would lose their coverage from next year under the Republican plan.
"We'll see what happens," Trump said on Wednesday during a meeting on health care and women.
- Close vote expected -
The vote in the House on the American Health Care Act (AHCA) looks tight.
The Democratic minority is prepared to vote against it as a bloc. So Republican leaders need to limit defections to about 22 out of 237 representatives -- depending on how many members end up casting a vote.
Those who are the most unhappy with "Trumpcare" are members of the House Freedom Caucus -- the heirs apparent to the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement.
They call the new bill -- championed by Speaker Paul Ryan -- "Obamacare Light" as it will only reduce, not eliminate, health coverage subsidies by replacing them with refundable tax credits.
Party leaders made tweaks to the bill late on Monday, which they hope will allay concerns enough for the bill to squeak by in Thursday's vote.
"There is no plan B," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Wednesday.
- Credibility at issue -
As the vote neared, the arm-twisting on Capitol Hill and at the White House continued. Ryan could decide to postpone the vote if it becomes clear the measure will fail.
"I'm still hopeful we can change the bill -- I'll continue working around the clock to do so," Mark Meadows, the chair of the House Freedom Caucus, said on Twitter.
"But I cannot support the #AHCA as it stands."
Ryan countered: "We're not losing votes, we're adding votes, and we feel like we're getting really, really close."
On Tuesday, House Republican Chris Collins said some of the 20 to 30 lawmakers still in the "no" camp could vote "yes" at the last minute to spare the party a major setback.
New York Republicans like Collins have won a concession on taxes for their constituents, and have since shifted to the "yes" camp.
Trump has put his own credibility and deal-making skills on the line for the measure. He has hosted dozens of lawmakers at the White House in recent weeks to ensure a victory.
On Tuesday, he went to Capitol Hill himself to make his case -- and warned that congressional Republicans risk a major defeat at the 2018 mid-term polls if they do not deliver for him.
Trump also singled out specific lawmakers who oppose him -- including one-time supporter Meadows -- suggesting he could make their lives difficult if they defy him.
After defeats in the federal courts for both of his executive orders on immigration, the US president needs to show he can get results on the Hill.
So far, he has only succeeded in rolling back some Obama-era regulations and signed into law a bill on NASA funding.
If the House passes the bill Thursday, the Senate is expected to take up the measure next week. Trump will need all of his negotiating talent once again, as opposition there is likely to be equally stiff.