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 SchumerHouse Judiciary Dems seek answers over Trump's national emergency declaration Mandatory E-Verify: The other border wall Trump says he 'didn't need to' declare emergency but wanted 'faster' action 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 TrumpTrump nominates ambassador to Turkey Trump heads to Mar-a-Lago after signing bill to avert shutdown CNN, MSNBC to air ad turned down by Fox over Nazi imagery 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 CollinsBusiness, conservative groups slam Trump’s national emergency declaration The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine — Trump, Congress prepare for new border wall fight 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 GillibrandNewsom endorses Kamala Harris for president Trump tweets video mocking Dems not cheering during State of the Union Omar: Next president should declare national emergency on climate change ‘on day 1’ 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 DonnellyOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary EPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks MORE (Ind.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general GOP wants to pit Ocasio-Cortez against Democrats in the Senate Senate poised to confirm Trump’s attorney general pick 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 HeitkampOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary On The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction 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 SessionsThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine — Trump, Congress prepare for new border wall fight The Memo: Trump and McCabe go to war McCabe book: Sessions once said FBI was better off when it 'only hired Irishmen' 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 CoonsTrump got in Dem’s face over abortion at private meeting: report Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Actor Chris Evans meets with Democratic senators before State of the Union 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.