WASHINGTON -- Republican leaders canceled a House vote on their repeal of the Affordable Care Act on Friday to avoid having an ugly defeat punctuated by a lopsided tally.
But for some, damage may have been done already.
Three Republican congressmen from the Philadelphia area had either announced support for the bill or cast committee votes to advance an earlier version, putting them on the record backing an unpopular plan that ultimately went nowhere.
The trio -- Chester County's Ryan Costello, Delaware County's Pat Meehan, and South Jersey's Tom MacArthur -- now have to carry the weight of backing the plan without any benefit they might have accrued by delivering the GOP's long-promised repeal of the law known as Obamacare.
"I wouldn't want to be in that situation, let's put it that way," said Rep. Charlie Dent, an Allentown Republican who had declared his opposition to the bill. He was one of three Republicans from the greater Philadelphia region to come out against the measure before Friday, publicly defying President Trump and helping sink his first major legislative push.
Meehan and Costello said late Friday, after the effort collapsed, that they would have voted against the final version of the bill in the House, and all three said they had tried to improve the measure to address its flaws.
But Democrats were already taking aim at the three, who represent potentially competitive districts. Democrats hope to pin them to the issues that made the bill toxic, including projections that it would increase the number of uninsured by 24 million.
"The Republican bill ended in a complete and utter failure," said the Democrats' congressional campaign arm, and any Republican who supported it "now owns this until Election Day."
The politically charged response reflects the hazards -- which Democrats know well -- of trying to alter the health-care system, and the precarious position for local Republicans now working with Trump. Those from the Philadelphia region come from moderate districts Trump lost or barely won, and they will be on the front lines of any backlash against the president in midterm elections next year.
At the same time, Trump is known to hold grudges, and voting to block the bill would have put local Republicans in the way of a goal that GOP voters have long prized.
The cost of health care is the issue that tops voters' domestic concerns, said Patrick Murray, head of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. But he said the fallout from last week is not clear-cut.
"If that gets worse, the question is: Who is to blame for it? The Democrats, who originally passed Obamacare?" Murray asked. "Or the Republicans, who weren't able to get a reform passed?"
Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan both said Democrats would absorb the blame for any premium hikes, given their ownership of Obamacare.
"I've very seldom seen people defeated over bills that didn't pass," said Rep. Tom Cole (R., Okla.). "What actually gets you in trouble is when you actually get what you ask for."
The three Philadelphia-area representatives who had backed some version of the bill made no apologies for their votes. They said they had tried to soften its harsher elements and add more benefits for older people who might have been hurt under the legislation. They said they were hoping to address the rising premiums and increased federal spending that they blame on Obamacare.
Costello and Meehan both voted in committees to advance the original proposal, but said they had changed their positions and would have cast votes against the final bill.
Costello argued he had more sway to demand changes as long as he was undeclared. But he said he became a "no" after conservatives insisted on erasing mandates that insurers cover maternity care, substance-abuse treatment, and other services.
Meehan also had concerns about that provision, and said in a statement that the bill "didn't go far enough to bring down the cost of care or make essential coverage more affordable." An aide said the congressman had informed the speaker of his intention earlier in the day.
"I don't regret doing my job," Meehan said in an interview. He said he backed the early version before the House Ways and Means Committee as a way to keep reform moving along. Costello's vote helped the proposal clear the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Both said they had expected to see changes to the legislation before it reached the full House, and had expressed concerns before Friday.
"I voted this thing out of committee because I think it's the right framework, and since that time I've been trying to push this in the direction to improve it," Costello said.
Democrats scoffed that it was easy to take a firm stand once the bill was dead.
By Friday, MacArthur was the only Republican in the region and the only New Jerseyan in Congress who acknowledged he would have voted for the bill. Despite voting against earlier procedural steps, he put out two press releases last week affirming his backing for the final version.
"I made my views clear and why I believe this was going to be good for people, and I stand by where I was," he said as he walked out of the meeting announcing that the effort was over.
In a later statement, he said that it would have been easy to stand in the way, "which requires no effort at all," but that he had sought compromise.
He said his push helped win an additional $90 billion in tax credits for older Americans to buy health care, $60 billion for low-income seniors and the disabled, and $15 billion for maternity care and treatment for substance abuse and mental illness. Both moves were meant to offset cuts in those areas, looser insurance rules, or projections that those groups would be hurt by the plan.