GOP rejects Schumer bill protecting ObamaCare amid Supreme Court fight

Republicans on Thursday shot down a bill that would have blocked the Justice Department from advocating in favor of nixing the Affordable Care Act, as Democrats try to squeeze GOP senators amid an explosive Supreme Court fight. 

Senators voted 51-43, falling short of the 60 votes needed to advance the bill, after Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) caught GOP leaders by surprise when he set up the vote, effectively winning temporary control of the floor. 

Democrats are stepping up their procedural tactics against Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination, and they view health care as one of their best arguments against President Trump’s pick. 

The bill would prevent the Justice Department from arguing in court to strike down the ACA. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case that could determine the future of the landmark health care law a week after the election. 

“You know we’re fighting this Supreme Court nomination with the tools that we have. McConnell has limited those tools when he so defiled the Senate and changed all the rules — but I managed to go on the floor when there was no Republican there, ask to put on the floor a proposal that said, we will spend no money to fight to repeal the ACA,” Schumer said during an MSNBC interview.

Schumer earlier this week took a rare procedural step to pave the way for Thursday’s vote. Typically only McConnell sets up votes on the floor, unless there is unanimous consent. Underscoring the rarity of the move, senators estimated a member of the minority party using the Senate’s procedural levers to leapfrog the Majority Leader and force a vote had last taken place a decade ago.

But Democrats are under pressure to use every option at their disposal to protest Barrett’s nomination and the GOP plan to confirm her, absent a major setback, by the Nov. 3 election. 

Democrats also believe the vote allows them to go on offense on healthcare including coverage for pre-existing conditions, in the final weeks of the 2020 election. 

Democrats put health care at the center of their 2018 strategy where they won back the House. 

Underscoring the tricky political dynamics five Republicans on the ballot — Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) — voted to proceed on Schumer’s bill.

“We’ll see where the Republicans stand. They all say, oh, yeah, I’m for protecting preexisting conditions. They’ll have a chance to show it tomorrow; let’s see what they do,” Schumer added. 

A Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll from July found 57 percent of the public disapprove of Trump asking the Supreme Court to strike down the ACA.

Republicans tried to pre-but Schumer’s maneuver Wednesday night, and provide leverage for their vulnerable incumbents by setting up a procedural vote on the legislation from Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who is up for reelection, related to pre-existing conditions. 

“There’s no Republican I know of that isn’t for protecting people worn pre-existing conditions. … The more our members have something that they can talk about that they are for I think the better it is in terms of trying to defend themselves against the attacks,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 GOP senator, on the decision to force the vote on the GOP alternative. 

Democrats, however, were quick to note that the vote to advance Schumer’s bill comes as several of the same Republicans have sidestepped weighing in on the Justice Department-backed lawsuit, or argued the ACA was unconstitutional.

Republicans voted in 2017 to strike the individual mandate under ObamaCare, a move that paved the way for the case going before the Supreme Court next month. 

“Senate Republicans are lying to their constituents when they claim they’ll protect pre-existing conditions coverage. …This vote exposes their toxic records,” said Helen Kalla, a spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Schumer also shot down a question on Thursday afternoon about if he made a strategic mistake by potentially providing cover to vulnerable GOP senators who supported advancing his bill. 

“We knew that some of them would squirm, but when you flip your vote a few weeks before the election, the American people see right through it,” he said. “These senators are worse off today no matter how they voted, because they flip-flopped.” 

Updated at 4:39 p.m.

Tags Charles Schumer Cory Gardner Dan Sullivan Donald Trump John Thune Joni Ernst Martha McSally Susan Collins Thom Tillis

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