Dems strategy on Trump pick: Unify around health care

Dems strategy on Trump pick: Unify around health care
© Greg Nash

The liberal base is fired up about abortion rights, but Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSenate Democrats should stop playing politics on Kavanaugh Montana GOP Senate hopeful touts Trump's support in new ad Strong job growth drives home choice for voters this election MORE (N.Y.) will seek to emphasize access to affordable health care as much as Roe v. Wade in the battle over the Supreme Court.

In sharp contrast to the Obama era, Schumer thinks health care is the Democrats’ best weapon. By putting the charged issue of women’s reproductive rights within the broader framework of access to health care, the matter is likely to be less polarizing in red states.

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Ten Democrats face reelection this year in states that President TrumpDonald John TrumpMattis defends reversing his stance on Trump's 'Space Force' Pelosi: Trump engages in racism 'constantly' Tom Steyer: Pelosi is wrong about Trump impeachment push MORE won in 2016, and four of those battlegrounds lean against abortion rights, according to a state-by-state survey by the Pew Research Center. Another Democratic senator, who is not up for reelection until 2020, Sen. Doug Jones (Ala.), also hails from a majority anti-abortion state.

Trump announced Monday night that he would nominate Brett Kavanaugh, a judge on the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to the nation's highest court. 

By emphasizing access to affordable health care, Schumer is also making a bid for two Republican swing votes, Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate Judiciary announces Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing NRA will spend M to support Kavanaugh for Supreme Court: report Planned Parenthood launches six-figure Supreme Court ad campaign MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate Judiciary announces Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing NRA will spend M to support Kavanaugh for Supreme Court: report Planned Parenthood launches six-figure Supreme Court ad campaign MORE (Alaska), who voted against the Republican plan to repeal ObamaCare in 2017.

Collins last month urged the Justice Department to reconsider its decision not to defend ObamaCare’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions from ongoing litigation that could wind up in the Supreme Court.

Senate Democrats will emphasize other issues that resonate with middle- and working-class voters, such as the court’s impact on workers’ rights, money in politics and voting rights.

“I don’t think it’s going to come down to Roe v. Wade exclusively,” said Nan Aron, the president of Alliance for Justice, a liberal advocacy group, and a longtime ally of Democrats in Supreme Court confirmation fights.

“Health care, above all else, at the moment appears to be the key issue,” Aron added, noting that a pending lawsuit filed by the state of Texas against the Affordable Care Act (ACA) challenging protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

“That’s going to go up to the [Supreme] Court and that’s huge. Every Democrat voted against repeal of the ACA,” Aron said.

The National Institute for Reproductive Health, a group that seeks to broad access to reproductive health care, blasted Trump's choice of Kavanaugh on Monday, issuing a statement moments after that announcement that warned that, if confirmed, he would put Roe v. Wade in jeopardy.

"This nomination poses a real and immediate threat to one of our most basic rights and places our freedom to make fundamental decisions about our reproductive lives in great peril," said Andrea Miller, the president of NIRH.

With some Democratic senators facing reelection in states with large anti-abortion constituencies, there’s concern within the caucus that the Supreme Court debate will become too focused on that charged issue.

One Democratic senator who requested anonymity said there was a “lively debate” about abortion politics during a closed-door meeting before Congress left for the July 4 recess.

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandDemocrats embracing socialism is dangerous for America Border patrol chief: Calls to abolish ICE impact the morale of my team Kamala Harris tied with Bernie Sanders as betting favorite for 2020 Dems MORE (D-N.Y.), an outspoken advocate of women’s rights and a potential White House candidate in 2020, urged her colleagues to “hammer” Republicans on the threat to Roe v. Wade, said the source.

But other Democrats want to put less emphasis on the divisive issue of abortion rights.

“There are a lot of Catholics in my state,” said the lawmaker, describing trepidation that some Democratic senators have about over-emphasizing abortion.

Two Democrats facing tough races in November, Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellySenate Judiciary announces Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing GOP candidate who criticizes outsourcing has brand that sells foreign-made goods: report NRA will spend M to support Kavanaugh for Supreme Court: report MORE (Ind.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate Judiciary announces Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing Anti-abortion group launches ads against Manchin over Planned Parenthood Trump to campaign for Morrisey in West Virginia MORE (W.Va.), have less-than-perfect ratings from Planned Parenthood, a major provider of family planning services.

Both lawmakers joined another centrist, Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampSenate Judiciary announces Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing NRA will spend M to support Kavanaugh for Supreme Court: report Planned Parenthood launches six-figure Supreme Court ad campaign MORE (D) of North Dakota, where a 2014 Pew poll showed a majority of people oppose abortion rights, in voting for Trump’s last Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

Protecting people with pre-existing medical conditions from skyrocketing insurance premiums, however, unites the entire Democratic caucus.

Schumer on Monday put the future of affordable health care and a woman’s right to choose an abortion on equal footing, calling them “two issues of similar and profound consequence.”

He warned that protections for people with pre-existing conditions and abortion rights will be “gravely threatened” by Trump’s nominee.

In a New York Times op-ed last week, Schumer warned that “several cases are wending their way through the courts” that could be used to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision upholding the major tenets of the Affordable Care Act.

He called affordable health care and the right to an abortion the two “most consequential issues at stake.”

Schumer’s argument stressing the threat to the ACA, however, is somewhat undermined by the fact that Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement last month, voted in 2012 to strike down the law.

It was Chief Justice John Roberts, another Republican appointee, who joined the court’s four liberal members in a 5-4 ruling to uphold ObamaCare.

Schumer has made the rising cost of health care and efforts by the Trump administration to undermine the ACA one of his top talking points this year.

Democratic pollster Geoff Garin told the Senate Democratic caucus in a briefing earlier this year that the high cost of health care is voters’ biggest economic concern.

Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and former Senate leadership aide, said Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump heightens attacks on Sessions: He's 'scared stiff and missing in action' Houston-area Mexican restaurant responds to backlash for serving Sessions, slams family separations Trump threatens to 'get involved' in watchdog group's efforts to obtain McCabe text messages MORE’s decision not to defend legal challenges to the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions gives Democrats ammunition in the court fight.

“The administration with this lawsuit has given Democrats a rhetorical tool they can use against whoever the president nominates,” he said.

He said health care is a good issue for Democrats in the midterm elections and that emphasizing the impact of Trump’s policies on health-care costs will likely resonate with voters.

“The more Democrats spend talking about what’s at stake when it comes to policies, the better off they’re going to be in November,” Manley said. “Folks are becoming a lot more sensitive to the Republican effort to take away health care.”

Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsOn The Money: Senators propose 'crushing' Russia sanctions | Trump calls for food stamp work requirements in farm bill | China tells US to 'chill' on trade | Apple hits trillion in value Let’s honor public service Senate Dem: Talk of revoking security clearances a ‘pure distraction’ MORE (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, emphasized affordable health care for people with pre-existing medical conditions during an appearance on MSNBC over the weekend. He also stressed the court’s impact on consumer and environmental protection laws as well as reproductive rights.

Putting abortion rights into the broader context of access to health care makes the issue less polarizing, according to Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who noted that Planned Parenthood has used that tactic effectively in recent years.

“For the last 10 years the choice community has been putting a woman’s right to choose in the context of health care and reproductive health care,” Lake said. “Planned Parenthood has led the way on that because they have been attacked for being abortion providers and they say that’s only one service we provide.”

She added Planned Parenthood has done a lot of work to publicize its other services: birth control, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and cancer screenings.

“That has worked extremely well for them and maintained their favorability,” Lake said. 

—Max Greenwood contributed to this report.