Republicans face 2020 repeat on health care

Republicans are facing a repeat of the 2018 midterms if a court battle about the legality of ObamaCare drags into the 2020 campaigns. 

When a district judge in Texas ruled ObamaCare unconstitutional last week in a case brought by Republican states, it gave Democrats another opportunity to box in GOP lawmakers on protections for people with pre-existing conditions — a line of attack that Democrats credit with helping them win back the House. 

With an appeal of the decision certain, and a possibility it will reach the Supreme Court, the case could haunt Republicans defending their seats in 2020, when Democrats hope to take back the Senate and the White House. 

Republicans acknowledge they need a different strategy to avoid a wipeout like they saw in the House in November, when Democrats picked up 40 seats and regained the majority for the first time in eight years. 

“The Democrats were successful in the last election of spinning the message,” said Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsTrump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Senators look for possible way to end shutdown GOP senators would support postponing State of the Union MORE (R-S.D.), who is up for reelection in 2020 in a ‘solid Republican’ race, according to the Cook Political Report. 

“If they do that again, we’re going to have to do a better job about sending the message about who is being obstinate about fixing that mess.” 

Democrats are already reviving their message for the next battle, with Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDACA recipient claims Trump is holding ‘immigrant youth hostage’ amid quest for wall Fox’s Wallace to Pence: Is government shutdown all about ‘leverage?' Former House Republican: Trump will lose the presidency if he backs away from border security MORE (D-Calif.) slated to put a bill on the floor in January that would instruct the House legal counsel to defend ObamaCare in the lawsuit.

While the move is largely symbolic, it is likely to pass and would force Republicans to go on record, yet again, on the issue of ObamaCare and protections for people with pre-existing conditions. 

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate rejects government-wide ban on abortion funding Centrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Bipartisan group of senators will urge Trump to reopen government for 3 weeks MORE (D-W.Va.), did the same this week. The resolution directing the Senate to intervene in the lawsuit was blocked by Republicans, which Democrats say gives them another example that the GOP is simply not interested in protecting people with pre-existing conditions. 

“One would think that Republicans would try a new approach following this disastrous outcome where they lost 40 congressional seats, in no small measure because of their misguided approach to health care,” said Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenCongress should elevate those trapped in the gap – support ELEVATE Act IRS shutdown plan fails to quell worries IRS waiving penalty for some in first filing season under Trump's tax law MORE (D-Ore.) at a press conference this week.

Republican attempts to repeal and replace ObamaCare had the unexpected effect of making it more popular, especially its consumer protections that prevent insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or charging them more.

Democratic candidates made repeal attempts a centerpiece of their campaigns, with Pelosi declaring on election night that “health care was on the ballot and health care won.” 

And Democrats were handed another talking point when 20 Republican attorneys general, led by Texas, filed suit against the Trump administration, arguing that ObamaCare was unconstitutional since Congress repealed the individual mandate penalty last year. 

The Trump administration declined to defend the law in court, arguing that the consumer protections, including those for pre-existing conditions, should be struck down. 

Following Judge Reed O’Connor’s decision that ObamaCare is unconstitutional without the individual mandate penalty, Republicans have said it's time to work with Democrats on a health-care proposal that will protect people with pre-existing conditions. 

“We Republicans and Democrats need to come up with a solution that increase the quality of care and decrease the cost of care. ObamaCare failed to do that, so let’s find a way to,” said Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees Overnight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal MORE (R-Colo.), who is running for reelection in 2020 in a race deemed "lean Republican" by the Cook Political Report. 

Some Republicans expect voters to grow tired of Democrats’ messaging on pre-existing conditions, and expect Congress to actually do something to improve health care instead of arguing about it. 

“The messaging battle on that issue was successful to a degree, but at the end of the day, the American people aren’t going to say pre-existing conditions is all of the health care that we need in order to be protected,” said Rep. Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedA rare display of real political courage Overnight Health Care: Dems hit GOP with ObamaCare lawsuit vote | GOP seeks health care reboot after 2018 losses | House Dems aim for early victories on drug pricing | CDC declares lettuce e-coli outbreak over Dems hit GOP on health care with additional ObamaCare lawsuit vote MORE (R-N.Y.), co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. 

“I believe the American people are going to say fix it, and that’s the right thing we should be doing … That, to me, would be the more practical, prudent thing to do, but obviously politics sometimes trumps that here in Washington, D.C.”