Dems seek to leverage ObamaCare fight for midterms

Dems seek to leverage ObamaCare fight for midterms
© Greg Nash

Democrats are seizing on the Trump administration’s push in court to overturn ObamaCare’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions, hoping to leverage the issue ahead of November’s midterm elections as some Republicans rush to distance themselves from the move.

The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) decision to join a legal battle arguing that one of the most popular parts of ObamaCare should be struck down is being viewed by Democrats as a political gift, with the party apparatus quickly using the issue to attack GOP candidates and rally their base.

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Ever since the DOJ joined 20 GOP-led states last week in arguing against the measure, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has been sending out a drumbeat of press releases asking Republican Senate candidates where they stand on the administration’s arguments.

Democrats are also highlighting the fact that Patrick Morrisey, who is challenging Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDoug Jones to McConnell: Don't 'plow right through' with Kavanaugh Cook Political Report moves Texas Senate race to ‘toss-up’ The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh MORE (D) in West Virginia, and Josh Hawley, who is challenging Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillNelson campaign to donate K from Al Franken group to charity 'Kavanaugh' chants erupt at Trump rally in Missouri The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh, accuser say they’re prepared to testify MORE (D) in Missouri, are two of the Republican state attorneys general who brought the lawsuit against ObamaCare in the first place.

Replying to someone asking on Twitter late last week if Hawley would “protect my two year old son’s health care,” McCaskill tweeted: “No Tyler, he won’t. He is one of the AGs bringing the lawsuit to end the protection of those with pre-existing conditions.”

The West Virginia Democratic Party also piled on against Morrisey, arguing the Republican candidate “wants to go back to the bad old days when insurance companies could deny coverage to West Virginians based on pre-existing conditions.”

Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist, said that after GOP efforts to repeal ObamaCare failed last year, “Republicans wanted to change the topic and they might have been able to if Trump hadn’t sued to overturn the protections.”

“The last thing they wanted to talk about is the thing Trump is now putting front and center,” he added.

Some Republicans are now distancing themselves from the Trump administration’s position.

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke MORE (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Health Committee, put out a scathing statement on Tuesday night saying the administration’s argument “is as far-fetched as any I’ve ever heard.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDoug Jones to McConnell: Don't 'plow right through' with Kavanaugh Kavanaugh accuser agrees to testify next week GOP, Kavanaugh accuser struggle to reach deal MORE (R-Ky.) declined to support the administration’s position when asked Tuesday, though he did not directly say he disagreed, either.

“Everybody I know in the Senate — everybody — is in favor of maintaining coverage for pre-existing conditions,” he said.

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell noted that the Trump administration’s move to argue against the ObamaCare measure in court could put vulnerable Republican incumbents at risk.

“What McConnell is trying to do is protect his Senate majority, and this issue could put folks in jeopardy like Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerHeller embraces Trump in risky attempt to survive in November McConnell suggests he could hold Senate in session through October The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh, accuser say they’re prepared to testify MORE,” O’Connell said, referring to the Republican senator from Nevada.

“One of the top issues that fires up Democrats is health care, and obviously pre-existing conditions is popular with independents,” the GOP strategist added. “It may not be the best time to bring this up.”

Megan Taylor, a spokeswoman for Heller, said “Senator Heller believes that Nevadans with pre-existing conditions should be protected. Period.” She did not respond when directly asked whether Heller disagrees with the administration’s argument.

Rep. Tom MacArthurThomas (Tom) Charles MacArthurMillionaires group endorses Dem House candidates opposed to GOP tax law Election handicapper moves 10 races toward Dems Election Countdown: GOP worries House majority endangered by top of ticket | Dems make history in Tuesday's primaries | Parties fight for Puerto Rican vote in Florida | GOP lawmakers plan 'Freedom Tour' MORE (R-N.J.), a leader of the repeal effort last year who is now facing a tough reelection race, said in a statement that pre-existing condition protections are “sacrosanct” and that he does not “support the DOJ decision without an accompanying legislative fix from Congress and President TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her MORE.”

A poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation during the repeal debate last year found strong backing for the pre-existing condition protection in ObamaCare: 70 percent overall supported it, including 68 percent of independents and 59 percent of Republicans.

Many Republican candidates are finding themselves in a bind. While they don’t want to be against protections for pre-existing conditions, they also don’t want to publicly break from Trump. Some are simply staying silent, at least for now.

The campaigns of Republican Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerHeitkamp knocks GOP challenger for 'disturbing' comments on Kavanaugh allegations 5 things to know about Trump's escalating trade war with China GOP Senate candidate: Allegations against Kavanaugh 'absurd' MORE, who is seeking to unseat Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampDoug Jones to McConnell: Don't 'plow right through' with Kavanaugh Heitkamp knocks GOP challenger for 'disturbing' comments on Kavanaugh allegations 5 things to know about Trump's escalating trade war with China MORE (D) in North Dakota, and Mike Braun, who is challenging Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyDoug Jones to McConnell: Don't 'plow right through' with Kavanaugh The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh McCaskill to oppose Kavanaugh nomination MORE (D) in Indiana, did not respond to requests for comment on the Trump administration’s argument.

A spokeswoman for Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), who is running for Senate this year, said that the governor “supports protecting those with pre-existing conditions” and “believes every American, including those with pre-existing conditions, should have the ability to buy any kind of insurance they want.”

The spokeswoman, Kerri Wyland, did not respond when asked directly whether Scott disagrees with the administration’s argument in court.

Democrats argue that Republicans’ repeal votes last year, as well as the lawsuit joined by the Trump administration, show that they do not really support pre-existing condition protections.

The House repeal bill allowed states to waive those protections under certain conditions, as did a Senate bill from Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Kim, Moon toss ball to Trump in ‘last, best chance’ for Korean peace GOP senator: Kavanaugh accuser 'moving the goalposts' MORE (R-S.C.) and 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.).

Democratic leaders are turning the screws.

“You ask the American people the number one issue they care about, it’s health care, not anything else, and we are not going to get diverted,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump slams Sessions in exclusive Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh accuser wants FBI investigation MORE (N.Y.) said at a press conference Tuesday.

House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDemocrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her Sinema, Fitzpatrick call for long-term extension of Violence Against Women Act Internal RNC poll shows Pelosi is more popular than Trump: report MORE (Calif.) likewise called a press conference for Wednesday to attack the Trump administration’s decision.

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerSome employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report Colorado governor sets up federal PAC before potential 2020 campaign Hillicon Valley: Trump signs off on sanctions for election meddlers | Russian hacker pleads guilty over botnet | Reddit bans QAnon forum | FCC delays review of T-Mobile, Sprint merger | EU approves controversial copyright law MORE (R-Colo.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, countered that he thinks ObamaCare will in fact hurt Democrats.

“The Affordable Care Act, ObamaCare, is the reason we have massive price escalations despite the promises they were going to reduce the cost of care,” Gardner said. “Nobody’s going to all of a sudden think that ObamaCare is McConnellCare.”

Hawley, while backing the lawsuit against ObamaCare, said in a statement that he still supports protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

“Insurance companies should be required to cover folks with pre-existing conditions,” he said.

“The collusion plan known as Obamacare is a failure, and Senator McCaskill owns it,” he added.