SPONSORED:

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 TrumpThe Memo: The Obamas unbound, on race Iran says onus is on US to rejoin nuclear deal on third anniversary of withdrawal Assaults on Roe v Wade increasing 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. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“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 ErnstConservative Club for Growth PAC comes out against Stefanik to replace Cheney A bipartisan effort to prevent the scourge of sexual assault in the armed forces Ernst defends Cheney, calls for GOP unity 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 McSallyEx-McSally aide pleads guilty to stealing over 0K in campaign funds Arizona state senator announces bid for Kirkpatrick's seat Democratic Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick says she won't seek reelection 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 LoefflerGeorgia Republican secretary of state hits Loeffler as 'weak,' 'fake Trumper' Loeffler asks Georgia attorney general to investigate Raffensperger over 2020 election Former Rep. Doug Collins won't enter Georgia Senate race 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."

ADVERTISEMENT

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 GrassleyGrassley asks Blinken to provide potential conflicts involving John Kerry Overnight Defense: Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform | US troops begin leaving Afghanistan | Biden budget delay pushes back annual defense policy bill Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform MORE (R-Iowa) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenBad jobs report amplifies GOP cries to end 0 benefits boost Putting a price on privacy: Ending police data purchases Overnight Health Care: Biden sets goal of at least one shot to 70 percent of adults by July 4 | White House to shift how it distributes unallocated vaccines to states 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 TillisSenate hears from Biden's high-profile judicial nominees for first time Senate Democrats take aim at 'true lender' interest rate rule Former North Carolina chief justice launches Senate campaign 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 DainesThree questions about Biden's conservation goals Hillicon Valley: DOJ to review cyber challenges | Gaetz, House Republicans want to end funding for postal service surveillance | TikTok gets new CEO Senators introduce bipartisan bill to protect personal travel data MORE (R-Mont.), who could face a challenge from his state’s governor, Democrat Steve BullockSteve BullockOvernight Energy: Climate Summit Day 2 — Biden says US will work with other countries on climate innovation Biden announces picks to lead oceans, lands agencies Biden set to pick conservation advocate for top land management role 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.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The office of Sen. Cory GardnerCory GardnerBiden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 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 BidenDefense lawyers for alleged Capitol rioters to get tours of U.S. Capitol Sasse to introduce legislation giving new hires signing bonuses after negative jobs report Three questions about Biden's conservation goals MORE becomes the front-runner for his party’s presidential nomination. Biden, unlike Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersGOP is consumed by Trump conspiracy theories Manchin on collision course with Warren, Sanders Sanders on Cheney drama: GOP is an 'anti-democratic cult' MORE (I-Vt.), does not support Medicare for All.

Sen. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungTo meet the US innovation challenge, keep NSF's mission intact America can build back better through fair and open competition GOP senator supports 'diplomatic boycott' of 2022 Olympics in Beijing 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. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“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. 

ADVERTISEMENT

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 CollinsCheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts House to advance appropriations bills in June, July Manchin touts rating as 'most bipartisan senator' MORE (R-Maine) is a rare Republican to outright oppose the lawsuit, writing to Attorney General William BarrBill BarrDemocrats, activists blast Trump DOJ effort to get journalists' phone records Trump admin got phone records of WaPo reporters covering Russia probe: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney 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.