Virginia’s Ugly Obamacare Fight Takes Another Shocking Turn

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A nasty fight over Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion in Virginia took another shocking turn on Monday afternoon.

State Sen. Phillip Puckett (D), who resigned his post reportedly for a job as deputy director of the tobacco commission, took himself out of the running on Monday, according to the Washington Post. News of his resignation drew fierce criticism and raised questions about a possible backroom deal with Republicans. The director of the GOP-led commission had endorsed Puckett for the position and said the two discussed the possibility.

Puckett’s resignation, which became official Monday, switched control of the Senate to Republicans, giving them a 20-19 advantage, at least until his successor is elected. Democrats in the state have been pushing to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, leading to an acrimonious partisan battle that could culminate in a government shutdown if no deal is reached by July 1.

Puckett’s resignation would have taken place in time for the GOP, with the Senate newly under its control, to pass a budget that excludes an expansion of Medicare. The expansion wouldn’t have been assured even if Puckett had stayed because the House is controlled by anti-expansion Republicans.

Another possible carrot for Puckett, as the Post reported Sunday night, was a judgeship for his daughter, who was barred from taking a judicial appointment so long as her father was in the legislature and has been in limbo.

The state senator did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Critics, including House Minority Leader David Toscano (D), said Puckett’s move raises questions about whether Republicans offered him and his daughter jobs in exchange for his resignation in order to flip control of the Senate.

“It definitely makes it harder” to pass a Medicaid expansion after Puckett’s move, Toscano told TPM on Monday.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) said he was “deeply disappointed” by the Puckett news. His office declined to speculate on whether he’d veto a hypothetical budget that omits an expansion of Medicaid to the roughly 400,000 Virginians who stand to benefit.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.
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