Health care defeat leaves GOP in crouch, Dems on offence
WASHINGTON Republicans face a big problem following the collapse of their latest push to repeal the Obama health care law: Their own voters are angry and don’t trust them.
Right now, they don’t know what to do about it. That’s trouble for a party preparing to defend its House and Senate majorities in 2018 midterm elections that look riskier than most imagined months ago.
President Donald Trump and top congressional Republicans say they’ll take another run next year at dismantling President Barack Obama’s health care law. But they’ve made doing just that a core promise in four consecutive national elections with nothing to show for it.
“If I’m a voter in wherever and somebody says, ‘We’re going to come back to health care,’ would I be skeptical? Sure,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who’s retiring rather than seek a third term next year. He added, “When something has been committed to and it doesn’t happen and then it doesn’t happen again, I think it’s self-evident it isn’t a good thing.”
This year’s failure was especially stinging because it was the first time since Obama’s 2010 overhaul law was enacted that they’ve controlled the White House and Congress. The latest debacle came Tuesday, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., averted a guaranteed defeat by not holding a vote on a last-resort bill transforming much of Obama’s law into block grants that states would control.
The setbacks are causing strains among Senate Republicans.
“It’s obvious we don’t have the kind of leadership we need to pass this piece of legislation,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told a reporter Friday after an appearance in Fitchburg, Wisconsin. Johnson, who’s clashed with McConnell before, declined to say if the leader should step down.
The broken promises are an “epic fail” that “puts less trust in the minds of conservative voters,” said Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, the conservative group backed by the activist brothers David and Charles Koch.
The GOP health care implosion “has poisoned the attitude of GOP primary voters toward congressional Republicans in general,” Steven Law wrote in a memo this week. Law, McConnell’s former chief of staff, heads the Senate Leadership Fund, a political group allied with the Kentucky Republican.
Law’s memo was released Tuesday, hours before the GOP primary defeat of Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., by conservative lightning rod Roy Moore. Establishment Republicans including McConnell backed Strange, as did Trump.
Law warned that the ouster of Strange would make him “the first casualty — and probably not the last — of the Obamacare repeal fiasco.”
In an ABC News-Washington Post poll this week, more Republicans disapproved than approved of the job the congressional GOP is doing by a dismal 21 percentage points. That’s the fourth-worst showing since 1994.
Just eight Senate Republicans face re-election in 2018, and only two have seemed to face serious GOP primary challenges: Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Nevada’s Dean Heller.