Sen. Rand Paul was joined by House Democrats in a literal treasure hunt through the Capitol Thursday in search of House Republicans' Obamacare replacement bill. They didn't find it.
It was a rare bipartisan stunt, inspired by the unusual secrecy surrounding the GOP's bill. On Wednesday, Bloomberg reported the bill was being kept in a reading room in the Capitol and only available for members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and their staff to read, in an attempt to avoid leaks to the press.
Paul announced on Twitter that he was heading to the "secure location" where the bill was being held, and soon drew a sizable gaggle of reporters and cameras.
When Paul finally entered the room, it was empty — the bill had, reportedly, been moved.
But House Democrats couldn't let a good messaging opportunity go to waste. A number of them joined what quickly became a hunt through the Capitol for the bill, with lawmakers trailing reporters as they poked their heads into random offices to see if they could find the bill. New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone poked his head into Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's office to see if it was in there.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted a photo of bloodhounds on the hunt at Paul in support of his search, which Paul retweeted.
In an impromptu press conference outside of House leadership's offices, Paul likened the move to hide the bill to Democrats' handling of Obamacare in 2009.
"If you recall where Obamacare was passed in 2009, 2010, Nancy Pelosi said we'll know what's in it after we pass it. The Republican Party shouldn't act in the same way," Paul said.
"This is being presented as if it were a national secret, as it if it were a plot to invade another country ... that's wrong. It should be done openly in the public. And conservatives who have objections that don't want Obamacare-lite should be able to see the bill."
Paul is one of a significant number of conservatives in both the House and the Senate who panned the House GOP's Obamacare alternative when an early draft was leaked last week, making it a non-starter for Republicans. They're trying to avoid a similar situation with the final draft by orchestrating a quick turnaround from the time the release the bill, to marking it up, to bringing it to the floor for a vote.
And though Republicans planned to unveil the bill on the Hill this week, the rollout has been delayed as staffers put some final touches on the policy to make it more politically palatable and less costly.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, of Texas, told reporters that there in fact was no final bill. While the broad contours of the policy have been written, he said staffers are still making tweaks to it.
"We don't have a bill. We continue to work with the [Congressional Budget Office] and our members on the final policy decisions," he said.
Brady had met with Senate Republicans Wednesday to brief them on the final bill and try to assuage concerns of some of the Senate's more conservative members, like Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, both of whom have said they can't support the draft House healthcare bill. Brady seemed to hint that, even with staffers tweaking the bill to appease conservatives, its future in the Senate was uncertain.
Asked whether he felt all of the Senate Republicans were on-board with the legislation, Brady said only, "You'll have to ask them. I felt very good about the discussion."