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 Rounds'Mike Pounce' trends on Twitter after Trump slip at GOP retreat Conservatives offer stark warning to Trump, GOP on background checks Trump officials vow to reform Fannie, Freddie if Congress doesn't act 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 PelosiPelosi: Democrats will 'certainly' beat Trump in 2020 Kavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Lewandowski, Democrats tangle at testy hearing 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) ManchinKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Democrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' Senate Democrats to hold the floor to protest inaction on gun violence 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 WydenDemocrats press for action on election security Interior gains new watchdog On The Money: NY prosecutors subpoena eight years of Trump tax returns | Senators struggle to get spending bills off ground as shutdown looms | Progressive tax-the-rich push gains momentum | Trump faces dwindling leverage with China 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 Gardner The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Bolton returns to political group after exiting administration The Hill's Morning Report — Trump's hurricane forecast controversy won't go away 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. ReedLobbying World Gun debate to shape 2020 races Conservatives push Trump tariff relief over payroll tax cuts 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.”