GOP distances itself from Trump's ObamaCare attacks

Congressional Republicans don't want to talk about attacks on ObamaCare. But President TrumpDonald John Trump5 things to know about Boris Johnson Conservatives erupt in outrage against budget deal Trump says Omar will help him win Minnesota MORE isn't making that easy.

The Trump administration on Wednesday filed its official legal argument calling for the entirety of the Affordable Care Act to be struck down, once again thrusting the issue back in the spotlight at a time when GOP lawmakers are trying to turn the page.

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Republicans would much rather focus on criticizing the “Medicare for All” proposal backed by more and more Democrats, something they see as a winning line of attack compared to reigniting an ObamaCare debate that contributed to the GOP losing its majority in the House last year.

Trump, though, is not playing along with that strategy; instead, he is keeping up his attacks on ObamaCare in court and in his speeches.

Asked if he wished the Trump administration were not arguing so forcefully against the 2010 health care law in court, Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP rattled by Trump rally GOP wants commitment that Trump will sign budget deal Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, separated congressional Republicans from the White House.

“They're going to do what they're going to do,” Thune said. “What we have to worry about is what our members are working on, what we're trying to do and how we're communicating that to the American people.”

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley, Wyden reach deal to lower drug prices Overnight Energy: Senators push back on EPA's new FOIA rule | Agency digs in on rule change | Watchdog expands ethics probe of former EPA air chief Bipartisan senators fight 'political considerations' in EPA's new FOIA rule MORE (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, declined to say he supported the administration’s move.

“The president can message whatever he wants to message, and there's no control I have over what he can message,” Grassley said. 

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And Republicans have been beating the drum almost daily to get across their main health care message: that Medicare for All would take away people’s private health insurance and come with an enormous price tag. 

Republicans this week seized on a new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office examining projected costs associated with Medicare for All. While the report did not put a specific price tag on the proposal, it said government spending on health care would "increase substantially."

Previous studies have put the cost to the government around $32 trillion over 10 years.

But one side effect of the GOP’s attacks on Medicare for All is that it comes close to defending the status quo, which includes ObamaCare.

Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeBottom Line Trump faces new hit on deficit History in the House: Congress weathers unprecedented week MORE (R-Okla.) asked at a hearing this week on Medicare for All why lawmakers don’t just focus on bipartisan fixes to ObamaCare instead of pursuing the sweeping new system that’s championed by progressives like 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPoll: Biden leads 2020 Democratic field by 15 points, followed by Sanders and Warren Warren introduces bill to cancel student loan debt for millions Democrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new 'unalienable rights' commission MORE (I-Vt.).

“We have a chance, I think, to make some fixes that we probably all agree on,” Cole said.

Over the past few months, though, GOP lawmakers had been mostly silent on ObamaCare, a law they aggressively attacked for eight years.

The Affordable Care Act’s popularity has been rising in recent years, with a Kaiser Family Foundation poll in April finding that 50 percent of adults have a favorable view of the law, compared to 38 percent with an unfavorable one.

Most Democrats last year campaigned on maintaining the law’s popular protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

“The last thing Senate Republicans want to be doing is participating in an exercise that would potentially remove coverage from people with pre-existing conditions that they already have,” said a Senate GOP strategist. “Candidates in tough races will be emphasizing how to improve on what currently exists.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGrassley, Wyden reach deal to lower drug prices The Hill's Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike Harris, Nadler introduce bill to decriminalize marijuana MORE (R-Ky.) last month said the GOP health care message is “preserving what works and fixing what doesn't,” a very different slogan than the party’s long-time mantra of “repeal and replace.”

Trump, though, is on the attack against ObamaCare. In a speech last week, he touted the 2017 repeal of the law’s mandate to have coverage before adding, “Now we’re going for the rest.”

His administration is also supporting the lawsuit brought by a coalition of GOP-led states calling for overturning the law. That case, which legal experts in both parties dismiss as unlikely to succeed, is now making its way through the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Vulnerable Republican lawmakers are not eager to talk about the administration’s efforts on that front.

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony Trump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report The Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment MORE (R-Colo.), perhaps the most vulnerable GOP senator up for reelection next year, said Thursday that he had not seen the administration’s legal filing, declining to comment on it and on his views on the lawsuit. His office did not respond to a follow-up inquiry.

Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoStudent loan borrowers are defaulting yearly — how can we fix it? Overnight Defense: Woman accusing general of sexual assault willing to testify | Joint Chiefs pick warns against early Afghan withdrawal | Tensions rise after Iran tries to block British tanker House approves amendment to reverse transgender military ban MORE (R-N.Y.), a moderate who is facing a potentially competitive race next year, distanced himself from the lawsuit.

“I don't agree with anything being taken out without a replacement ready,” he said.

Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoAnyone for tennis? Washington Kastles Charity Classic returns this week The Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment White House, Congress inch toward debt, budget deal MORE (R-W.Va.) noted the failure of the GOP’s repeal attempt in 2017.

“Obviously the repeal-and-replace discussion wasn't successful, so let's put that behind us and let's make this one work,” she said.

Thune, though, suggested that if Republicans were in control of both chambers again, they would likely attempt another repeal-and-replace measure.

“Obviously, if and when we have the votes, we'd like to take a different direction, one that would create more competition and more choices and lower costs,” Thune said.