Dems give props to Kimmel as ObamaCare repeal stumbles

Democrats cheering what appears to be the imminent failure of the GOP’s latest ObamaCare repeal effort are giving a special shout out to Jimmy Kimmel, the comedian-turned-activist whose opposition to the bill made him the public face of resistance. 

“Jimmy Kimmel played a huge role, in the sense that [he] connected with average Americans,” Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) said Friday. 

“It had a tremendous impact to make people think.”

Kimmel, the late-night host of ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” has for months turned the GOP’s repeal effort into a personal crusade, broadcasting the plight of his infant son, born with a serious heart condition, and accusing the Republicans of pushing legislation that would steal his son’s health coverage.

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That saga evolved this week into a personal back-and-forth between Kimmel and the sponsors of the repeal legislation, Sens. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyOvernight Health Care: Opioids package nears finish line | Measure to help drug companies draws ire | Maryland ObamaCare rates to drop Overnight Health Care: HHS diverts funds to pay for detaining migrant children | Health officials defend transfers | Lawmakers consider easing drug company costs in opioids deal Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens MORE (R-La.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse Judiciary chair threatens subpoena if DOJ doesn’t supply McCabe memos by Tuesday Rosenstein report gives GOP new ammo against DOJ Graham: There's a 'bureaucratic coup' taking place against Trump MORE (R-S.C.), with each side launching charges that the other misunderstood the substance of the legislation. 

Meeks cited Kimmel’s “celebrity factor” as a wildcard that resonated with the public, perhaps more than the message coming from the Republicans. He compared the dynamics to those that accompanied the rise of President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children Groups plan mass walkout in support of Kavanaugh accuser MORE, another television personality who used his fame to climb all the way to the White House.

“It’s ironic, but Donald Trump wouldn’t have gotten away with all the things he got away with if he didn’t have a celebrity factor. This leveled the playing field to a degree,” Meeks said. “To a degree it’s unfortunate that … we idolize celebrities. That’s why someone people want celebrities to endorse their products, because it sells. 

“That’s the society that we live in.” 

Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), echoed that message, saying Kimmel’s huge public stage — and touching personal ordeal — kept the pressure on moderate Republicans to oppose their party’s bill. 

“He sways public opinion which then sways debate. And because it was so emotional — to show his family, to show the human side of it — he’s really just going through what everyone else goes through, and how it would affect everyday Americans,” Richmond said.

“I think it just helped put a story and a face with it.”

The Republicans have been struggling all year to make good on a years-long promise to dismantle President Obama’s health-care law, but the Cassidy-Graham proposal had gained steam in recent days. GOP leaders are eying a vote on the bill next week.

But Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump hits McCain on ObamaCare vote GOP, White House start playing midterm blame game Arizona race becomes Senate GOP’s ‘firewall’ MORE (R-Ariz.) dealt Trump and GOP leaders an enormous setback on Friday, announcing he “cannot in good conscience” support the GOP’s latest repeal bill despite his friendship with Graham, a co-sponsor.

McCain was the crucial vote that halted the Republicans’ earlier repeal effort in July. In voting no, he cited the absence of both committee hearings on the legislation and the lack of Democratic buy-in. He urged GOP leaders to return to the drawing board to work on a bipartisan plan that followed regular order — and that was the same message he delivered on Friday.

“I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried," he said in a statement. 

Kimmel quickly praised McCain as “a hero.”  

With Democrats united against the repeal legislatoin, the Republicans can afford only two GOP defections or the bill is dead.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulA Senator Gary Johnson could be good not just for Libertarians, but for the Senate too Conservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Senate approves 4B spending bill MORE (R-Ky.) came out last week against the bill, and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsKavanaugh accuser set to testify Thursday McConnell told Trump criticism of Kavanaugh accuser isn't helpful: report Dems see Kavanaugh saga as playing to their advantage MORE (R-Maine) has told several media outlets that she’s leaning against it. 

It’s unclear what happens next. An undeterred White House responded to McCain’s announcement with the defiant message that the repeal effort will continue. And Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchDems see Kavanaugh saga as playing to their advantage Kavanaugh accuser agrees to testify next week Judiciary Dems say GOP treating Kavanaugh accuser worse than Anita Hill MORE (R-Utah), chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, has previously suggested the Republicans could move ObamaCare repeal as part of a tax reform package. 

For the moment, however, the Democrats are claiming a huge victory in their fight to protect the Affordable Care Act. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) claimed Friday that McCain’s opposition lends the Democrats the opportunity to “finally put a stake in the heart of this monstrous bill.” 

The news of McCain’s defection was cheered by the participants of the CBC’s annual issues conference, which was staged this week at Washington’s cavernous Convention Center. When it was announced in a session examining the intersection of hip-hop and politics, “people stood up and clapped,” said Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.). 

Carson praised Kimmel’s role as significant, though he was quick to note that the vocal opposition from activists, health care groups and the social justice movement also played a crucial role in applying pressure to on-the-fence Republicans. 

“Politicians pay attention to two things: money and poll numbers,” Carson said. He also suggested that McCain, recently diagnosed with brain cancer, is looking beyond the next election.   

“Sen. McCain’s a very smart guy, he’s dealt with health challenges in his own life, and he’s seen his constituents suffer,” Carson said.  

“It’s about looking at your legacy.”