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For eight years, repealing and replacing Obamacare was a cornerstone of the Republican agenda. That was before their so-called replacement crashed and burned with a thumbs down vote from Sen. John McCain last summer and Republicans took a bath in the midterms.
So Republicans are expressing bewilderment over President Trump’s broadside on the Affordable Care Act this week, which began when he ordered the Department of Justice to run with a Texas court ruling that found the entire act unconstitutional.
While the president says he wants the GOP to be the “party of health care,” Republicans are worried he’s abandoning Obamacare’s popular protections and the people who need them, such as the 129 million Americans with pre-existing conditions, without having anything to replace it with.
“I believe that he’s sort of got the cart before the horse, that you need to have a plan for what a replacement would be that would improve upon the ACA,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who joined the late McCain in opposing the effort to replace Obamacare, said at the Capitol.
Collins, who is up for re-election this cycle, is sending a letter to Attorney General William Barr Friday asking the administration to rethink its stance and stand by the Affordable Care Act.
“There’s a chance for the administration to rethink its position”
She’s also warning that they will set a dangerous precedent if they turn the DOJ into a partisan agency that serves individual presidents and not the American people and the very lawmakers on Capitol Hill they elect to represent them and pass laws on their behalf.
“The court proceedings will be ongoing, so there’s a chance for the administration to rethink its position,” Collins told VICE News. “For the administration to advocate for invalidating a duly enacted law is a mistake, in my view, and contrary to the traditional approach that the Justice Department takes, generally it defends the law regardless of whether the president agrees with the law.”
The other Republican who joined McCain and Collins in killing the GOP repeal effort is Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who says, like most of Capitol Hill, she was caught completely off guard by the Trump administration’s reversal.
“I thought, ‘Oh, OK, we’re starting all over again with the ACA. What’s the plan?’” Murkowski told VICE News at the Capitol on Tuesday when the news was still fresh. “I don’t know what the plan is, so this is all kind of fresh rethinking for me.”
It’s not just the moderates who are dumbfounded by the move. Axios reported that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spoke to Trump after the announcement and voiced the frustration from rank-and-file Republicans that it was the wrong move at the wrong time, especially after Democrats just recaptured control of the House running on a positive message of improving upon and strengthening Obamacare.
In public, many other Republicans are trying to show unity and argue the party can still fulfill its repeal-and-replace promise even if the Supreme Court invalidates the entire ACA.
“I don’t know what precipitated that change, but I can tell you it’s not inconsistent with the desire to repeal and replace it,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told VICE News at the Capitol. “Obviously you know, it would put the onus on Congress to take another shot at health care reform, which I hope we do.”
Meanwhile, as the GOP has yet another internal family feud over how to fix — or outright dismantle — the nation’s current health care system, Democrats are enraged and say it bolsters their argument that Republicans have never truly wanted to make access to affordable health insurance a priority.
“Unfortunately for the people affected, it’s consistent with where they’ve been, because the only thing Republicans around here have been saying is they support pre-existing protections but then do nothing to bring it about,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) told VICE News. “They’ve got some work to do.”
Even as Democrats had been debating various “Medicare for All” proposals, they’re now unified in not only maintaining the Obamacare status quo but also shoring up the current system immediately.
“I have lived through children not being able to get insurance because they had a pre-existing condition. And so this is dastardly,” Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) told reporters at the Capitol. “I expect us to fight vigorously against this on behalf of the American people with no litmus test as to what party they’re in, just because they need this insurance.”
While Democrats fear the more conservative-leaning Supreme Court could eventually rule the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, they also see this as an electoral gift of Trump’s own making.
“It’s hard to figure out. I guess they’re desperate – they must have so much pressure from the right to destroy this thing that they’re willing to flip-flop,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told reporters at the Capitol this week. “They literally are teeing this up as an issue for Democrats for the next year and a half. They’re not even making a laughable attempt to save the most popular parts of the Affordable Care Act.”
Cover image: President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally at the Van Andel Arena on March 28, 2019, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)