NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday that efforts to repeal and replace former Democratic President Barack Obama's signature health care law "ain't over by a long shot."
Pence said in a speech at the Tennessee Republicans Party's annual fundraiser that President Donald Trump plans to achieve the repeal and enact sweeping tax cuts this year.
"We were not elected to save Obamacare; we were elected to repeal and replace it," Pence said.
Pence called it a "hard truth" that Democratic and Republican opponents of efforts to repeal the health care law in Congress "let the American people down."
"Make no mistake about it: This ain't over," he said. "This ain't over by a long shot."
Trump has threatened to halt federal payments to insurers in hopes of forcing Democrats to negotiate an end to the health care law. Republican Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, who is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, announced plans to work with the panel's top Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, to craft an agreement to keep insurance payments through the 2018.
"My focus is on the 350,000 Tennesseans — songwriters, farmers, self-employed people — whose premiums are going through the roof," Alexander said before the event. "I'm going to do whatever I can between now and the end of September to ensure they have insurance to buy at prices they can afford."
Alexander declined to say whether his efforts are supported by the White House.
"I voted three times last week to repeal and replace Obamacare," he said. "I can do that again. But in the meantime we're going to have hearings with Democrats and Republicans about the best way to make sure Tennesseans have affordable insurance options."
Pence lauded Trump's support for legislation aimed at significantly reducing legal immigration and shifting the country toward a system that prioritizes merit and skills over family ties. Pence said the proposal would "ensure our immigration laws put American people and American jobs first."
Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he is willing consider the proposal.
"To have a merit-based system to me is something that we should be looking at, where you're actually bringing people into the country that you think will help grow the economy and help further our nation's interest," Corker told reporters. "As far as the numbers go, we're still going through that and what the impact is."
Although much of Pence's speech was heavily partisan, he opened his remarks by expressing condolences to Democratic Nashville Mayor Megan Barry for the death of her 22-year-old son. Max Barry died of an apparent drug overdose near Denver last week. Pence said Barry and her family "will be in our prayers."
Pence is the third Republican vice president to speak at the Tennessee GOP event after Dick Cheney and Dan Quayle.