Less than 36 hours after Attorney General William Barr frustrated Democrats with his letter outlining the Mueller report, he handed them what many see as a political gift.
The Department of Justice announced Monday night that it would push to completely invalidate Obamacare in the courts. Congressional Democrats seized on the news as a way to move on from the initial disappointment of Barr’s topline summary of conclusions in the Mueller report.
“Once again the Republicans want to strip away protection for Americans with pre-existing conditions,” House Democratic Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said at the top of his press conference Tuesday morning. “This was a defining issue if the 2018 midterm elections. We embrace this fight because House Democrats were given the majority in order to defend healthcare.”
“It took them one day, one work day, to flip back to their true priorities, which is taking away healthcare from millions of Americans,” Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Katherine Clark (D-MA) told TPM.
Democrats were less than eager to talk about the Mueller report, beyond demanding a public release of the full report, including underlying documentation and grand jury testimony. Leaders were also dismissive of Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s (D-MI) push to gather signatures supporting impeachment on grounds not covered in the Mueller investigation.
Democrats argued that this doesn’t mark a shift in their focus.
“This does not require a pivot,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said. “It’s what we campaigned on.”
That’s true to a degree — Democrats have hammered on economic issues for much of the past two years, and have put most of their campaign focus into healthcare. That includes both 2018 congressional candidates and the 2020 presidential front-runners.
But Trump has made it clear he plans to weaponize the toplines of Barr’s letter to Congress to attack the media and attempt to discredit Democrats who are involved in other investigations. Many Republicans have called for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) to resign, a move that’s left Democrats rolling their eyes. And Trump himself has argued that the “witch hunt” came up empty, inaccurately claiming that it exonerated him of all wrongdoing.
Democrats aren’t backing down in their investigations, but it’s clear they don’t think the issue will move voters. House Democrats will unveil new healthcare legislation aimed at reducing prescription costs on Tuesday, and made it clear they were happy to return to the topic that won them the House, as opposed to Mueller’s findings that Trump didn’t criminally collude with Russia and Barr’s claim that Trump didn’t obstruct the investigation.
Democrats accurately pointed out that they didn’t run on Russia in 2018, when they won House control, even as liberal talking heads pushed hard on the Mueller investigation. And Jeffries predicted that a contrast on pocketbook issues would carry the day in 2020.
“We as House Democrats focused on protecting people with preexisting conditions, lowering healthcare costs, and our candidates all across the country were talking about kitchen-table, bread-and-butter pocketbook issues, while some in this town were obsessed with the Russian investigation.” Jeffries told TPM when asked if he was concerned Mueller could overshadow their efforts to draw an economic contrast with Trump.
“We won control of the House of Representatives not focused on Russia, not focused on collusion, not focused on impeachment, not focused on obstruction of justice, but focused on healthcare and on infrastructure and on cleaning up corruption in Washington, D.C.,” Jeffries continued.
It remains to be seen whether Democrats can break through with that issue — or if Trump can use the presidential bully pulpit to redefine voters’ focus and claw his way to reelection.