GOP senator issues stark warning to Republicans on health care

GOP Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunOvernight Energy: Trump EPA looks to change air pollution permit process | GOP senators propose easing Obama water rule | Green group sues EPA over lead dust rules The 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal Pair of GOP senators propose easing Obama water rule MORE (Ind.) has a stark warning for Republicans: Come up with a viable alternative to ObamaCare or face another rout in the 2020 election.

Speaking with The Hill at his office in the Senate Russell Building, Braun described the GOP’s push to repeal ObamaCare without a plan of their own as one of the primary reasons for the Democratic wave election in 2018.

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“What was it, about 55 House seats?” Braun said. Republicans lost 40 seats in the 2018 midterm elections, and Democrats earned a majority in the House for the first time since 2011.

The freshman senator is worried that Republicans are in for a repeat performance in 2020.

“The whole repeal thing hurts our case about what we’re going to replace it with. … [Democrats] have owned the issue pretty well because of the void we’ve created,” Braun said.

Republicans campaigned in 2016 on repealing and replacing ObamaCare. Voters gave Republicans control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, but GOP efforts to repeal the law were a legislative debacle and a political disaster.

“We weren’t prepared with a comprehensive alternative,” Braun said. “We’ve been apologists for the industry.”

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE reignited the debate earlier this month when his administration backed a legal effort to dismantle ObamaCare.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' Pelosi asks Democrats for 'leverage' on impeachment Democrats press FBI, DHS on response to white supremacist violence MORE (R-Ky.) split with the president, saying the Senate would not take the issue up again.

Meanwhile, some 2020 Democratic presidential contenders are going all-in behind “Medicare for all.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersHickenlooper day-old Senate bid faces pushback from progressives Steyer calls on DNC to expand polling criteria for debates Andrew Yang: News coverage of Trump a 'microcosm' of issues facing country MORE (I), a leading contender for the Democratic nomination, unveiled a revamped Medicare for all bill this week that has the backing of four Senate Democrats who are also running for president.

Braun believes a government-run health care system would be a colossal failure and could bankrupt the country.

But he warned that the proposal could catch on, both for the simplicity of the Medicare for all slogan and because the Democrats will be selling it to the public every day between now and the election.

“Democrats are selling something so simple,” Braun said.

“It’s going to resonate everywhere because if you don’t have a credible alternative … we’re going to be probably stumbling around in 2020,” he said.

Braun, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is batting around new ideas with Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRomney: 'Putin and Kim Jong Un deserve a censure rather than flattery' A US-UK free trade agreement can hold the Kremlin to account Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity MORE (R-Utah), John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoIf Democrats want gun control, they must first concede defeat Conway: Republican concerns about gun reform 'all reconcilable' Five proposals Congress is eyeing after mass shootings MORE (R-Wyo.) and Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyA cash advance to consider Bottom Line I'm not a Nazi, I'm just a dude: What it's like to be the other Steve King MORE (R-La.).

Their work is still in the very early stages.

Braun says the goal is to at least have the pillars of a plan in place before the 2020 elections.

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But he said any proposal would have to include the most popular provisions in ObamaCare, including coverage for pre-existing conditions and an allowance for children to stay on their parents' plan until the age of 26.

“We better be putting something together, but we’re not ready now and we can’t just leave a void, that you’ll see the details post-election, or we’ll pay the price for it,” Braun said.

“Before 2020 we need to get the principles in place so we can compare it to something concrete rather than just making promises,” he added. “And we need to get rid of the idea of just repealing. A lot of Obamacare is proven that it can’t work because of the cost of it. But the tenets, pre-existing conditions coverage, kids on the plan until you’re 26, that has to stay.”

The comments come after Trump said the GOP would become "the party of health care." But the president also indicated that any legislation would be brought up for a vote after the elections in 2020.

Braun said the 2020 presidential contest is lining up to be a “nail-biter.”

Still, he’s optimistic Trump will hold on to his gains in the Rust Belt and Midwest states that propelled his surprising journey to the White House.

Braun, the former president and CEO of a successful auto parts business, said the economy would be a major asset for Republicans in 2020.

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And he predicted the Green New Deal and liberal Democratic proposals such as free university tuition and abolishing the Electoral College would scare off heartland voters.

“I think it’s going to frighten a lot of people,” he said. “It won’t fly in Indiana. I don’t think it will fly in places like Michigan, Wisconsin or even Pennsylvania, where it was looking pretty good for the other side before that.”

Trump and Vice President Pence, the former governor of Indiana, made several trips in 2018 to the Hoosier State to campaign for Braun, who went on to defeat former Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyLobbying world Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries MORE (D).

Braun said he’s eager to return the favor by campaigning for the president’s reelection bid in 2020. Trump won Indiana by a hefty margin in 2016.

Could there be another Indiana politician on the ticket on the Democratic side?

South Bend Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegSteyer calls on DNC to expand polling criteria for debates The Hill's 12:30 Report: Stocks sink as Trump fights with Fed, China Gabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates MORE has shown surprising strength in the early going, raising $7 million and moving into the upper tier of candidates behind Sanders and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden evokes 1968, asks voters to imagine if Obama had been assassinated Biden blasts Trump's 'embarrassing' actions heading into G-7 summit Steyer calls on DNC to expand polling criteria for debates MORE in the polls.

“I think he is simply a result of what frustrates voters across the country. They’re looking for something different and Pete is in the limelight because he’s definitely not a farm-system politician,” Braun said. “He’s an outsider, I was an outsider, we saw how that worked in Indiana.”

Buttigieg, who is gay, has criticized Pence for his record on LGBT issues. Braun said Pence has a “strong” reputation in the Midwest and warned Buttigieg against picking a fight with him.

“That’s kind of risky business for Pete if he wants to climb the ladder into being in contention, if you want to do well in the Midwest,” Braun said.

“I think Pete … can’t be too closely aligned with Bernie Sanders,” he added. “He’d be a young Bernie. Maybe that’ll be his nickname. I’m sure there will be nicknames for the opponents."