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Sandoval central to GOP health care bill's fate

Gov. Sandoval sat down with Vice President Pence at the National Governor's Association meeting in Providence, R.I., stating that he is "grateful for the health care discussion." (Gov. Brian Sandoval/Twitter)

June 23.

Walking to the podium at Las Vegas’ Grant Sawyer State Office Building were Nevada’s top two Republicans: Gov. Brian Sandoval and Sen. Dean Heller.

“We're going to talk a little bit about health care,” Sandoval told reporters three weeks ago Friday, as both men then launched into a denunciation of the GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The plan’s cuts to Medicaid could decimate the state budget, and take away health care from hundreds of thousands of Nevadans, they said.

Sandoval has a lot riding on the health care debate. He was the first Republican governor to sign on to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which other Republicans want to roll back. On Thursday, Senate leaders unveiled repeal and replace Version 2.0, which does the same thing.

RELATED LINK | Repeal and Replace 2.0: Sandoval expresses concern, Heller promises review

The health care bill may come up for a procedural vote next week. With two senators – Maine’s Collins and Kentucky’s Paul - expected as “no’s”, if Heller joins then, the bill is dead.

And there is nobody Heller is listening to more closely than Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Sandoval is in Providence, R.I., where he is attending the summer meeting of the National Governor’s Association. Friday’s headliner was the Vice President, who offered a full-throated defense of the Senate health care bill, along with its changes to Medicaid, America’s program to bring health care to the poor and needy.

“The truth is, for a long time, Medicaid’s been a broken system that’s been fundamentally unsustainable,” Pence told the nation’s governors, adding, “the expansion that occurred under Obamacare only made the system worse.”

RELATED LINK | Revised GOP health care bill may be short of votes; 3 senators leaning 'no'

Sandoval sat down with Pence after the speech, tweeting a picture of the two.

“Grateful for the healthcare discussion,” Sandoval said. “Appreciate the ongoing dialogue with the administration.”

The chat didn’t change much, according to the Nevada Independent. From Providence, reporter Michelle Rindels tweeted Sandoval’s reaction.

“I’m basically in the same position as I was before. Because I do have concerns,” Rindels quoted him as saying.

The immediate heat, though, is on Heller, who faces a tough 2018 election where his decision next week will surely be a defining moment.

Outside Heller’s Las Vegas office I met a handful of activists who planned to go inside to make their case.

“Urge him to stay strong, to vote no,” said Cyndy Hernandez. “There are reports that Republicans think they can make a deal with him.”

That news came from the website Axios, where reporter Mike Allen said Friday morning, “Republicans keep telling me Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, a third apparent ‘nay’ will be ‘bought off.’”

Heller’s office had no comment Friday. The Senator has said his guiding principle will be what’s best for the state. When the new bill came out Thursday, Heller issued a statement saying, “conversations are continuing and I’m going to read the new bill and weigh its impact on Nevada.”

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