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 John TrumpDeSantis on Florida schools reopening: 'If you can do Walmart,' then 'we absolutely can do schools' NYT editorial board calls for the reopening of schools with help from federal government's 'checkbook' Mueller pens WaPo op-ed: Roger Stone 'remains a convicted felon, and rightly so' 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 ErnstDemocrats seek to tie GOP candidates to Trump, DeVos Ernst: Renaming Confederate bases is the 'right thing to do' despite 'heck' from GOP GOP senators voice confidence over uphill Senate battle 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 McSallySenate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad 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 LoefflerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Is Georgia reaching a tipping point? Democrats hope for tidal moment in Georgia with two Senate seats in play GOP senators voice confidence over uphill Senate battle 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 GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyTrump administration to impose tariffs on French products in response to digital tax Big Ten moves to conference-only model for all fall sports Republicans considering an outdoor stadium for Florida convention: report MORE (R-Iowa) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTrump administration to impose tariffs on French products in response to digital tax Mnuchin: Next stimulus bill must cap jobless benefits at 100 percent of previous income Congress must act now to fix a Social Security COVID-19 glitch and expand, not cut, benefits 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 TillisDemocrats seek to tie GOP candidates to Trump, DeVos Senate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad 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 DainesMore Republicans should support crisis aid for the Postal Service Senate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Finger-pointing, gridlock spark frustration in Senate MORE (R-Mont.), who could face a challenge from his state’s governor, Democrat Steve BullockSteve BullockInternal poll shows tight battle in Montana House race The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic Unity Taskforce unveils party platform recommendations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump backs another T stimulus, urges governors to reopen schools 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 Scott GardnerDemocrats seek to tie GOP candidates to Trump, DeVos Senate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Finger-pointing, gridlock spark frustration in Senate 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 BidenDonald Trump Jr. to self-publish book 'Liberal Privilege' before GOP convention Tom Price: Here's how we can obtain more affordable care The Memo: Democrats feel rising tide in Florida MORE becomes the front-runner for his party’s presidential nomination. Biden, unlike Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden wins Louisiana primary Oh, Canada: Should the US emulate Canada's National Health Service? Trump glosses over virus surge during Florida trip MORE (I-Vt.), does not support Medicare for All.

Sen. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungA renewed emphasis on research and development funding is needed from the government Senate Republicans defend Trump's response on Russian bounties Stronger patent rights would help promote US technological leadership 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 CollinsMore Republicans should support crisis aid for the Postal Service GOP senators voice confidence over uphill Senate battle Republicans considering an outdoor stadium for Florida convention: report MORE (R-Maine) is a rare Republican to outright oppose the lawsuit, writing to Attorney General William BarrBill BarrGOP senator says Trump commuting Stone was a 'mistake' Barr recommended Trump not give Stone clemency: report Trump commutes Roger Stone's sentence 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.