GOP healthcare effort dogged by gender inequity

GOP healthcare effort dogged by gender inequity
© Greg Nash

Gender politics are roiling the start of the Senate Republican’s healthcare debate.

GOP leaders are playing defense over their decision to not include any women in a 13-member working group that is taking the lead in the healthcare talks.


While their conference has rallied around them in arguing that the criticism is largely driven by the media, Republicans were peppered with questions Tuesday over the gender imbalance.

And that has offered an opening for Democrats, who want to paint the GOP as broadly out of touch with women.

It was easy to see that Republicans were frustrated over the debate on Tuesday.

“Everybody is at the table. Everybody,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Biden, Pelosi struggle with end of eviction ban | Trump attorney says he will fight release of tax returns Graham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate McConnell warns Democrats against 'artificial timeline' for infrastructure deal MORE (R-Ky.) told reporters, bristling at a question about the role of his female colleagues.

He said reporters “need to write about what’s actually happening,” stating that his conference was “having a discussion about the real issues.”

McConnell also downplayed the working group’s importance, arguing his entire conference will be involved in the debate.

“Nobody is being excluded based upon gender,” he said.

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on MORE (R-Texas), pressed by a CNN reporter as he walked to a working group meeting, dismissed the controversy as “totally bogus because every single woman in our conference is involved.”

Democrats say they will make women’s health a top issue in the midterm elections.

“If you look at the House bill, it is so discriminatory against women,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPoll: Majority of voters say more police are needed amid rise in crime America's middle class is getting hooked on government cash — and Democrats aren't done yet The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate finalizes .2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill MORE (N.Y.) declared at a press conference.

“To not have women in the smaller group that we know is making many of the real decisions is a very, very bad thing. They’re more than half the population.”

Democrats are likely to go on the attack against Republicans if they keep language in the House healthcare bill to defund Planned Parenthood over its abortion services.

Republican leaders appeared at first to have defused the situation somewhat by inviting Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate Key Senate Republican praises infrastructure deal Biden to return to pre-Obama water protections in first step for clean water regulations MORE (R-W.Va.) to Tuesday’s meeting of the working group to discuss Medicaid. But GOP aides later clarified that she would not be a regular participant.

Capito told reporters that she plans to be actively involved in the debate, even if she is not included in meetings of the top negotiators.

“As a woman, I’m going to be participating very loudly,” she said.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate finalizes .2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill Schumer: Democrats 'on track' to pass bipartisan deal, .5T budget MORE (R-Maine), who has co-sponsored an alternative healthcare bill that would empower states to opt out of ObamaCare, said she would also play a role in the negotiations.

Collins noted that she spoke for nearly 15 minutes about Maine’s high-risk pool during the Republican lunch on Tuesday and asserted, “I’m not concerned about women’s voices not being heard.”

But Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate Sarah Palin says she's praying about running for Senate against Murkowski Graham says he has COVID-19 'breakthrough' infection MORE (R-Alaska) voiced some misgivings about the debate being led by an entirely male group.

She told a reporter for NBC News, “I just want to make sure we have some women on” the group.

The working group and its membership is in the spotlight because McConnell plans to use it to put together a bill that can win at least 51 votes.

Senators said Tuesday it appears that the Senate Finance and Health Committees will not hold hearings or markups on the healthcare legislation. Instead, it will be written behind closed doors and come straight to the Senate floor.

“I don’t think it’s going to go through the committees, at least from what I know about it,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who is also a member of the working group.

Tuesday was the first full day of Senate session since the House GOP narrowly passed its healthcare reform bill, kicking the issue over to the Senate.

But thorny policy questions such as what to do about the expensive Medicaid expansion or how much to subsidize insurance coverage for low-income Americans took a back seat to scrutiny over the all-male working group, much to the frustration of GOP leaders.

GOP negotiators must hammer out agreements on several difficult policy questions that divide their party.

One of the toughest is what to do about ObamaCare’s expansion of Medicaid, which has provided coverage for about 11 million people. Many Republican lawmakers want to end it, but a few from states that accepted the expansion are wary.

Republican senators from states that have expanded Medicaid have been meeting to discuss the issue. Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate Key Senate Republican praises infrastructure deal Infrastructure deal would require study on job losses from Keystone's end MORE (R-Ohio) said about eight of them met before a meeting of the Senate’s healthcare working group on Tuesday.

But if senators from states that have expanded Medicaid are split, it could diminish the ability of any lawmaker to try to preserve the program.

Conservatives are pushing to phase out the program as quickly as possible.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus, has said he has spoken with Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) on a plan to phase out the Medicaid expansion, perhaps over a longer period than is called for in the House bill.

Nathaniel Weixel contributed.