House GOP After Senate O’care Collapse: We Walked The Plank For This?

Alex Brandon/AP
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House Republicans who took a tough vote to repeal Obamacare in May are steaming mad that the Senate has failed to follow suit— and worried it has left them in the lurch heading into tough midterm elections.

A number of GOP members from swing districts stuck their necks out on a bill they knew was politically toxic to move forward with their party’s long-promised efforts to gut the Affordable Care Act, in the hopes that the Senate could return a more palatable alternative. Following the chaotic collapse of parallel efforts in the Senate they face the worst of both worlds: backing unpopular legislation that will be weaponized against them in next year’s campaigns without the benefit of seeing it become law.

Even House Speaker Paul Ryan’s  (R-WI) admonitions to his members during a closed-door Tuesday meeting not to rip into their Senate colleagues weren’t enough to keep them quiet.

We agreed that there was not much use in criticizing the Senate while they were going through their process and I agree with that. I just find it interesting to note the number of geniuses serving in the United States Senate,” Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) told TPM, after a long pause and a deep breath, when asked how he was feeling Tuesday evening. “Politically it all still needs fixing whether the Senate does nothing, whether we walked the plank or whatever.”

After an extended diatribe about the process and all the “bovine scat flying around” on the policy debate, Amodei walked away — only to return to admit he was “pissed” at how the Senate dropped the ball.

At least Amodei, who was an early critic of the House GOP bill before voting for the final version, heads home to a relatively safe district; President Trump carried it by double digits. Other Republicans who voted for Obamacare repeal aren’t so lucky.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) barely won reelection last fall in a district Trump lost by 8 points, and is a top Democratic target heading into 2018. He nevertheless voted for the bill after remaining silent on his position up until the vote itself. And he’s not pleased that Republican senators weren’t able to get their acts together.

“The Senate dropped the ball,” he said, sounding a bit exasperated. “They had almost a blank palette and they scribbled on it and came up with nothing. … Senator McConnell and [Senate Republicans], they failed to do their job.”

Issa refused to talk about the implications of his vote on his own reelection chances. But he already has two Democratic opponents, and has faced fierce protests in his district over the vote.

While a large audience waited to enter into an auditorium to hear Republican Rep. Darrell Issa speak at a town hall, counter-protesters lined the front of San Juan Hills High School on Saturday, June 3. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Protesters line up in front of a town hall for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) on June 3, 2017. (Matt Masin/Orange County Register via AP)

The GOP repeal effort is deeply unpopular. Just 24 percent of Americans said they wanted to see their repeal efforts succeed while 50 percent said they wanted to see Obamacare stand in a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Sunday.

Democrats were feeling schadenfreude — especially those who went through a similar process eight years ago by taking tough votes to pass cap-and-trade climate change legislation that the Senate never seriously considered.

“There’s no question the Republicans used my [cap and trade] vote against me time and again in my 2010 reelection, in my 2014 run for governor,” former Rep. Mark Schauer (D-MI) told TPM, calling the Senate’s failure to act on the legislation “perhaps the biggest disappointment” of his time in Congress. Schauer lost his reelection bid to Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) in the 2010 tea party wave and his 2014 challenge to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R).

But Schauer pointed out that Democrats did get some big things done during his time in office that he said was worth the political price he paid — including Obamacare — while Republicans have almost nothing to show for their first six months of unified control of Washington. He was convinced his Republican former colleagues were frustrated about the outcome, and nervous about its political implications.

“This was what they campaigned on and they voted on it dozens of times and now they felt they were actually going to get it done. I’m sure they’re unhappy campers that this has melted down in the Senate,” he said. “They should be very worried politically.”

Former Rep. John Boccieri (D-OH) voted for the 2009 cap-and-trade bill even though he was from an industrial blue-collar district – and lost by a double-digit margin in 2010. He predicted House Republicans are “heading warp speed towards a stone wall” due to their Obamacare repeal vote and Trump’s unpopularity, much as he himself was in 2010. Boccieri tore in to the GOP’s legislative proposals as cruel and short-sighted, but the one area where he could agree with his Republican former colleagues was how maddening the Senate could be.

“It’s always disconcerting when the House acts and the Senate does very little but talk,” he said. “Sometimes it appears that senators just want to hold the national microphone and talk and not do much, and that’s really frustrating. In this case I’m ecstatic they didn’t move to remove millions of people from health insurance.”

With Obamacare repeal efforts appearing all but dead, House Republicans are left with little but their own fury toward their colleagues across Capitol Hill.

“Obviously having that [political] exposure is something you go into eyes wide open,” said Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY), who hails from a district President Obama almost carried in 2012 but swung hard to Trump in 2016. “We have to do something to fix these failing Obamacare marketplaces for the people that are losing their insurance today. So I’ll deal with that. Obviously there’s political risk with that, and if it is for nothing that’s very frustrating.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.
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