Lib­eral groups

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY ELISE VIEBECK elise.viebeck@wash­post.com Ed O’Keefe and Scott Cle­ment contributed to this re­port.

are seiz­ing on Repub­li­can at­tempts to roll back health cov­er­age and limit ac­cess to birth con­trol as they seek to gal­va­nize fe­male vot­ers ahead of the midterm elec­tions.

Lib­eral groups are seiz­ing on Repub­li­can at­tempts to roll back health cov­er­age and limit ac­cess to birth con­trol, as they seek to gal­va­nize fe­male vot­ers ahead of next year’s midterm elec­tions.

Or­ga­ni­za­tions such as Planned Par­ent­hood Ac­tion Fund and Emily’s List be­lieve the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion handed them a po­tent po­lit­i­cal is­sue Fri­day when it carved out wide ex­cep­tions to the Af­ford­able Care Act’s prom­ise of no-cost con­tra­cep­tion. Ac­tivists plan to link this ac­tion to con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans’ re­peated at­tempts to un­der­cut the ACA in ways that could have caused mil­lions to lose health in­sur­ance, as part of a broader strat­egy fo­cused on de­feat­ing mod­er­ate GOP mem­bers and but­tress­ing vul­ner­a­ble Democrats.

“As mil­lions of women watch this ad­min­is­tra­tion take away fun­da­men­tal health care like birth con­trol, they’re also pay­ing at­ten­tion to all those mem­bers of Con­gress who are not stand­ing up to fight for them,” said Erica Sackin, po­lit­i­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor for Planned Par­ent­hood Ac­tion Fund, in a phone in­ter­view.

Democrats are ea­ger to cap­i­tal­ize on women’s anger to­ward the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans in a cy­cle that could be pun­ish­ing for Demo­cratic Se­nate in­cum­bents. While Demo­cratic can­di­dates could make some gains in the House, the party is de­fend­ing 10 Se­nate seats in states won by Pres­i­dent Trump — five in states he won by dou­ble-digit mar­gins. By fram­ing their mes­sage around health-care ac­cess, strate­gists hope to ap­peal to fe­male vot­ers who might not see them­selves as part of the anti-Trump “re­sis­tance,” but who op­posed GOP health-care pro­pos­als this spring and sum­mer.

Ac­tivists said the 2018 cy­cle is ripe for strong, pro-woman mes­sag­ing in light of mount­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment scan­dals such as the one en­gulf­ing Hol­ly­wood mogul Har­vey We­in­stein, which re­mind women of their con­tin­ued vul­ner­a­bil­ity to dis­crim­i­na­tion, and Trump’s poor ap­proval rat­ings with fe­male vot­ers.

Trump’s lat­est change to the birth-con­trol pol­icy, which gave em­ploy­ers greater lee­way not to cover con­tra­cep­tion in work­ers’ health plans, dove­tails neatly with those themes.

“This ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­ally made an ef­fort to roll out an an­ti­woman agenda,” said Vanessa Car­de­nas, direc­tor of strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions for Emily’s List. “We want to make sure women un­der­stand what’s at stake. . . . Women are re­al­iz­ing more and more how their rights are un­der threat.”

Kaylie Han­son Long, national com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor for NARAL Pro-Choice Amer­ica, said women’s rights and health care rank among the top is­sues for key vot­ers in 2018.

“We’ll ab­so­lutely be re­mind­ing vot­ers which can­di­dates stand with Don­ald Trump and which can­di­dates stand with women,” Long said in an emailed state­ment.

National sur­vey data ap­pears to be on Democrats’ side.

In a June poll, the Kaiser Fam­ily Foun­da­tion found two-thirds of Amer­i­cans sup­ported the ACA’s re­quire­ment that pri­vate health in­sur­ance plans cover the full cost of birth con­trol, in­clud­ing over half of Repub­li­cans and larger ma­jori­ties of in­de­pen­dents.

Smaller ma­jori­ties of adults op­posed al­low­ing ex­cep­tions for em­ploy­ers with re­li­gious ob­jec­tions, 53 per­cent, or moral ob­jec­tions, 55 per­cent, to con­tra­cep­tion.

Repub­li­cans are show­ing signs they will re­but crit­i­cism by at­tack­ing Democrats’ sup­port for a sin­gle­payer health-care sys­tem.

“Any con­ver­sa­tion on health care be­gins and ends with House Democrats’ full em­brace of sin­gle-payer,” Jesse Hunt, the National Repub­li­can Con­gres­sional Com­mit­tee’s national press sec­re­tary, in an emailed state­ment. “The prom­ise of mas­sive tax in­creases and a re­duc­tion in the qual­ity of health care one re­ceives is sure to be a drag on their elec­toral prospects.”

A re­quest for com­ment from the National Repub­li­can Se­na­to­rial Com­mit­tee was not re­turned.

Democrats see an op­por­tu­nity to use their health-care mes­sage in Ne­vada, where an original co-spon­sor of the Cas­sidy-Gra­ham bill — Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) — is de­fend­ing his seat and rep­re­sents their best chance at pick­ing off a GOP in­cum­bent.

Hil­lary Clin­ton won the state by 2.4 points in Novem­ber, and strate­gists noted that fresh­man Sen. Cather­ine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) won after re­peat­edly at­tack­ing her GOP op­po­nent for his con­ser­va­tive abor­tion stance and votes to de­fund Planned Par­ent­hood. Groups such as Planned Par­ent­hood Votes and Emily’s List de­scribed her re­peat­edly as a “cham­pion” for women’s health and rights.

Heller’s sup­port for Se­nate Repub­li­cans’ lat­est failed health-care bill could come back to haunt him in the race. The first-term se­na­tor was one of four original co-spon­sors of the leg­is­la­tion, which a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans op­posed in Septem­ber’s Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), who launched her bid for Heller’s seat this sum­mer, is al­ready us­ing the health-care and birth-con­trol is­sues as cud­gels.

“This puts ba­sic, fun­da­men­tal health care at risk for 62 mil­lion women,” Rosen tweeted Fri­day after the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s birth-con­trol an­nounce­ment. “It’s anti-women’s health, plain & sim­ple. Un­ac­cept­able.”

A tougher test could be Demo­cratic Sen. Claire McCaskill’s bid for re­elec­tion in Mis­souri.

The two-term se­na­tor has ben­e­fited in the past from Repub­li­can ham-hand­ed­ness on women’s health: In 2012, Repub­li­can Rep. Todd Akin (Mo.) was con­sid­ered a vi­able chal­lenger to McCaskill be­fore say­ing that vic­tims of “le­git­i­mate rape” rarely be­come preg­nant. The com­ment drew back­lash from both par­ties and pushed McCaskill far ahead with fe­male vot­ers. She won the race, 54.8 per­cent to 39.1 per­cent.

This time, things might not be so sim­ple. Mis­souri went for Trump by 18.5 points in Novem­ber, and the pres­i­dent has re­peat­edly urged vot­ers to push her out next year.

McCaskill took is­sue with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s birth-con­trol de­ci­sion on Fri­day.

“Folks of ev­ery po­lit­i­cal stripe and ev­ery faith can agree on the goal of re­duc­ing the num­ber of un­in­tended preg­nan­cies and abor­tions,” she said in a state­ment. “Well, the best way to do that is to ex­pand ac­cess to birth con­trol, not re­strict it.”

At a town hall event on Wednesday, McCaskill earned en­thu­si­as­tic ap­plause from the mostly fe­male au­di­ence when she talked about ac­cess to birth con­trol.

She later told re­porters that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is “sab­o­tag­ing” Oba­macare’s in­sur­ance ex­changes.

“They own health care 100 per­cent right now,” McCaskill said of Repub­li­cans. “And I think they’re un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the po­lit­i­cal blow­back they’re going to get if they don’t get busy and help us do just the bare min­i­mum to sta­bi­lize these ex­changes.”

Lib­eral groups are also op­ti­mistic about the 23 Repub­li­can con­gres­sional dis­tricts won by Hil­lary Clin­ton in 2016. From South­ern Cal­i­for­nia to the sub­urbs of Philadelphia, Hous­ton and Phoenix, GOP law­mak­ers are poised to see at­tacks from the left on health care.

“Those seats are fer­tile ground for us,” said Julie McClain Downey, direc­tor of cam­paign com­mu­ni­ca­tions for Emily’s List. “De­fund­ing Planned Par­ent­hood, rolling back the birth-con­trol man­date — we will con­tinue to am­plify those is­sues and draw vot­ers’ at­ten­tion to them for the next year.”

De­spite re­peated tries, the GOP’s seven-year prom­ise to re­peal and re­place the health-care law died in large part be­cause of two Repub­li­can women — Sens. Su­san Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — and their con­cerns about de­fund­ing Planned Par­ent­hood, threat­en­ing health-care cov­er­age for Med­i­caid re­cip­i­ents and loos­en­ing re­quire­ments that in­sur­ers cover ma­ter­nity care and other vi­tal ser­vices for women.

Women also dom­i­nated the phone lines on Capi­tol Hill as op­po­nents of the health-care bills urged them to weigh in, ac­cord­ing to con­gres­sional aides.

“They are def­i­nitely pay­ing at­ten­tion,” Car­de­nas said. “For many of them, they are the ones that are deal­ing with peo­ple who might be sick in their fam­i­lies. They are the ones who will have birth con­trol taken away from them. So they are feel­ing this im­pact di­rectly.”

“Women are re­al­iz­ing more and more how their rights are un­der threat.” Vanessa Car­de­nas, direc­tor of strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions for Emily’s List

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