Vulnerable Republicans dodge questions on support for ObamaCare lawsuit

Vulnerable Senate Republicans are dodging questions about whether they support a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act (ACA). 

The Supreme Court said this week it would take up the case, thrusting the issue to the forefront and posing a headache for Republicans in tough races this year.

President TrumpDonald TrumpJudge rules Alaska governor unlawfully fired lawyer who criticized Trump Giuliani led fake electors plot: CNN Giuliani associate sentenced to a year in prison in campaign finance case MORE supports the lawsuit, which would strike down the entire health law, but ObamaCare’s popularity has risen to a record high, posing a danger for Republicans in seeking to strike it down. 

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“I'm not saying whether I support it or not. It's in the hands of the Supreme Court now, so we'll see,” Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstSwalwell slams House Republican for touting funding in bill she voted down Alabama GOP gears up for fierce Senate primary clash Biden's court picks face fierce GOP opposition MORE (R-Iowa) told The Hill on Thursday. Ernst is up for reelection this year.

The lawsuit threatens coverage for roughly 20 million people and would also take away the law’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions, which are particularly popular.

Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Business groups, sensing victory, keep up pressure over tax hikes Kelly raises million in third quarter MORE (R-Ariz.), who faces a difficult reelection race this fall, said the issue is a “judicial proceeding” so she would not weigh in. 

Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Eleven interesting races to watch in 2022 Democrats' selective hearing on law and order issues puts everyone at risk MORE (R-Ga.), who like McSally was appointed to her seat and will face voters this fall, said to contact her office when asked if she supported the lawsuit.

In a follow-up email, a Loeffler spokeswoman did not directly answer if the senator supports the lawsuit.

"Regardless of what the courts do or do not decide, there is no question Congress needs to address healthcare issues facing Americans," a Loeffler spokeswoman wrote in the email, saying the senator wants action that "lowers insurance costs" and "expands coverage options."

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Democrats are seizing on the issue after the party’s strategy of focusing on the House GOP’s efforts to repeal ObamaCare helped it win back the lower chamber in 2018. 

Stewart Boss, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, called the ACA lawsuit the “single most important issue in Senate battlegrounds across the country.”

Vulnerable Senate Republicans are trying to focus on other health care issues, such as lowering drug prices, which polls extremely well with voters. 

McSally and Ernst, for example, in recent weeks signed on to a bipartisan bill to lower drug prices from Sens. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Hillicon Valley — Senate panel advances major antitrust bill Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products MORE (R-Iowa) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Schumer opted for modest rules reform after pushback from moderates MORE (D-Ore.). McSally also put forward her own bill to lower drug prices this week. 

Republicans don’t have their own alternative plan to ObamaCare, which makes them even more vulnerable to the attacks.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in January there is “not a need” for the Trump administration to put forward a replacement plan until the Supreme Court issues a ruling.

Some vulnerable Senate Republicans are pointing to a bill from Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisOvernight Energy & Environment — Starting from 'scratch' on climate, spending bill Hillicon Valley — Senate panel advances major antitrust bill Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products MORE (R-N.C.), called the Protect Act, that would reinstate some of the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions if the law is struck down. 

That bill, though, does not address other core parts of the health law that could be struck down, such as its Medicaid expansion or financial assistance to help people afford coverage.

Tillis did not directly answer when asked if he supports the lawsuit, but did point to his legislation. 

“What I’m more focused on is how we get back to a rational discussion about protecting pre-existing conditions, the kinds of things that are potentially at risk that for the life of me I can't understand why anyone would be opposed to, providing some certainty by just voting those provisions into law independent of the lawsuit,” he said. 

Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesHillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two Senate Judiciary Committee to debate key antitrust bill Overnight Defense & National Security — No punishments in botched Kabul drone strike MORE (R-Mont.), who could face a challenge from his state’s governor, Democrat Steve BullockSteve BullockDark money group spent 0M on voter turnout in 2020 In Montana, a knock-down redistricting fight over a single line 65 former governors, mayors back bipartisan infrastructure deal MORE, did not directly answer when asked if he supports the lawsuit, simply saying “we're going to be talking about a lot between now and next year” before walking into the Senate chamber. 

Daines spokeswoman Katie Schoettler later added in an email: “Obamacare has been disastrous for Montana and dramatically increased healthcare costs for Montanans. The Senator thinks that regardless of the outcome, Congress must protect people with preexisting conditions.”

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The office of Sen. Cory GardnerCory GardnerEleven interesting races to watch in 2022 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden to tackle omicron risks with new travel rules Gun control group alleges campaign finance violations in lawsuit against NRA MORE (R-Colo.) did not respond to a request for comment on if he supports the lawsuit. Gardner told The Hill in August that the issue is “the court’s decision,” but added: “If the Democrats want to stand for an unconstitutional law, I guess that’s their choice.”

Gardner may be the most endangered Senate Republican facing reelection this year.

Republicans point to Democratic calls for "Medicare for All," which would take away private health insurance and replace it with a government plan, in pushing back on Democrats.

But that counterattack is getting more complicated as former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenNew York woman arrested after allegedly spitting on Jewish children Former Sen. Donnelly confirmed as Vatican ambassador Giuliani associate sentenced to a year in prison in campaign finance case MORE becomes the front-runner for his party’s presidential nomination. Biden, unlike Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFilibuster becomes new litmus test for Democrats Gallego says he's been approached about challenging Sinema Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans MORE (I-Vt.), does not support Medicare for All.

Sen. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Democrats return with lengthy to-do list Don't just delay student debt, prevent it MORE (R-Ind.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told reporters Thursday that Biden “supports a variant of Medicare for All, which is the public option.”

Asked if Democrats seizing on the lawsuit posed a problem for Republicans in Senate races, Young countered by pointing to the strength of the economy. 

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“We're dealing with a period of American history in which wages are rising across income groups, across demographics, across racial and ethnic groups. People are optimistic about the future,” Young said. “They like what President Trump and this Republican-controlled Senate has accomplished.”

McSally, while not directly taking a position on the lawsuit, did criticize the Affordable Care Act, saying that “ObamaCare is not working” for some people who have pre-existing conditions and still struggle to afford the high cost of health care. 

“There are better ways for us to provide insurance options to people while protecting pre-existing conditions,” she said. 

Asked if that criticism meant she supports the lawsuit to overturn the law, McSally responded: “That’s not what I said, that’s a judicial proceeding.”

Ernst sounded a somewhat more positive note about the law when asked if she thought it would be good from a policy perspective for the ACA to go away.

“Well, I think we have a lot of Iowans that are expressing support for it, but what we would like to see is more health care opportunities out there,” she said. 

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Ernst added in a statement that she is a co-sponsor of Tillis’s Protect Act and said she “will always fight to protect those with pre-existing conditions.”

Legal experts in both parties have said they think the lawsuit’s legal arguments are weak and expect that the Supreme Court will uphold the law, but that is not certain. 

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden clarifies his remarks on Russia Effort to overhaul archaic election law wins new momentum Bipartisan lawmakers announce climate adaptation bill MORE (R-Maine) is a rare Republican to outright oppose the lawsuit, writing to Attorney General William BarrBill BarrWilliam Barr's memoir set for release in early March The enemy within: Now every day is Jan. 6 Dems worry they'll be boxed out without changes to filibuster, voting rules  MORE last year expressing her “profound disagreement” with the Trump administration’s decision to call for the courts to strike down the ACA. 

“Rather than seeking to have the courts invalidate the ACA, the proper route for the Administration to pursue would be to propose changes to the ACA or to once again seek its repeal,” wrote Collins, who is also up for reelection this fall.

Collins is one of three Senate Republicans who voted against the ObamaCare repeal bill in 2017, killing it. “The Administration should not attempt to use the courts to bypass Congress,” she said.