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How Jimmy Kimmel, of all people, became one of the most influential voices on health care

Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel attacked the Cassidy-Graham health-care plan on Sept. 19, and mocked Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) for failing his own standard. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Several minutes into his opening monologue Tuesday night, Jimmy Kimmel said what so many of his viewers were probably thinking:

“Health care is complicated. It’s boring. I don’t want to talk about it. The details are confusing.”

But he went on to make the case against the latest GOP health-care proposal, urging viewers to call their representatives to lodge their displeasure and even accusing a sitting senator of lying to his face.

Kimmel spent seven minutes delivering a blistering monologue devoid of jokes but full of attacks on the Cassidy-Graham health-care bill. The late-night comic wasn’t there to get laughs. He was there to get his audience riled up — again.

His first monologue on the issue came in May, when he spoke about his son being born with a congenital heart disease and said that he wanted political leaders to make sure people with preexisting conditions could get affordable health care. It touched a chord that no other late-night comedian had managed to during the Trump era. While he and many of his peers make their distaste for President Trump clear through biting jokes night after night, it took Kimmel’s from-the-heart style to actually influence a policy debate.

Is this Jimmy Kimmel’s defining moment?

The clip of Kimmel’s latest monologue went live online before his show went on air, lighting up Twitter. Interest groups immediately sent the clip out in email blasts. Democratic members of Congress pushed out the video.

“Jimmy Kimmel more effectively framed the insanity of this issue than any elected Democrat I’ve heard speak on it,” historian and Politico Magazine contributor Joshua Zeitz tweeted.

“Another withering healthcare monologue from Kimmel,” Mediaite editor Jon Levine tweeted. “In many ways, he is the heir to Jon Stewart.”

Kimmel’s approach has had an impact in part because it’s so personal. He’s publicly cried over the issue. He’s trying to make a common-sense argument, and he’s doing it during a segment where audiences expect the day’s best jokes.

Jimmy Kimmel gets heated about health-care bill, says Sen. Bill Cassidy ‘lied right to my face’

His first monologue sparked a flurry of political op-eds, cable-news roundtable discussions and fact-checking. His name ended up on front-page newspaper stories about health care. Trump administration officials invoked Kimmel, and were probed with questions about Kimmel’s points.

And the irony is that on Tuesday, Kimmel went after a new proposal authored by the very senator who helped bolster the late-night comic’s role in the health-care debate: Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.).

Back in May, Cassidy rode the viral wave of Kimmel’s first monologue, going on cable TV news shows and insisting that with any new health-care proposal, “I ask, does it pass the Jimmy Kimmel test? Would a child born with congenital heart disease be able to get anything he or she needs that first year of life? I want it to pass the Jimmy Kimmel test.”

Then the Louisiana Republican appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” himself. “Thank you for naming a test after me!” Kimmel said. “I always figured if I’d have a test named after me, it’d be for some embarrassing, sexually transmitted disease.”

The two then had a pleasant exchange. “Obviously, this is someone who cares about people’s health,” Kimmel said. Cassidy got applause from Kimmel’s audience after he urged people to call their lawmakers, Democratic or Republican, and ask them to work on an “American plan.”

“We’ve got to have insurance that passes the Jimmy Kimmel test,” Cassidy insisted.

Five months later, Kimmel went back on air to call out the senator. “This guy, Bill Cassidy, just lied right to my face,” Kimmel said Tuesday.

Opinion: On health care, Cassidy flunks his own ‘Jimmy Kimmel test’

“Stop using my name. Okay? Because I don’t want my name on it,” Kimmel continued. “There’s a new Jimmy Kimmel test for you — it’s called the lie-detector test. You’re welcome to stop by the studio and take it anytime.”

As Kimmel highlighted, the bill gives states near total power on how to govern their health insurance markets, and it lets states apply for waivers to effectively allow insurers to charge people with preexisting conditions more.

Cassidy’s office released a statement that didn’t directly address Kimmel’s arguments. “We have a September 30th deadline on our promise. Let’s finish the job,” he said. “We must because there is a mother and father whose child will have insurance because of [this bill]. There is someone whose pre-existing condition will be addressed because of [it].”

On CNN on Wednesday, Cassidy insisted Kimmel was wrong and argued his proposal does include protections for people with preexisting conditions.

Does Jimmy Kimmel really understand the GOP health-care bill?

“I am sorry he does not understand,” Cassidy said. He also told reporters on the Hill that his proposal “absolutely” passes the Jimmy Kimmel test and labeled the monologue as a “personal attack.”

Kimmel, predictably, is facing some pushback among those who also don’t think he gets the health-care debate, or that he’s just another rich Hollywood liberal trying to lecture Americans. But the late-night host, who faced some nasty comments back in May, preemptively addressed the criticism he knew was coming. And, with a bit of humor.

“Before you post a nasty Facebook message saying I’m politicizing my son’s health problems, I want you to know: I am politicizing my son’s health problems because I have to,” Kimmel said at the conclusion of his Tuesday monologue. “My family has health insurance. We don’t have to worry about this. But other people do, so you can shove your disgusting comments where your doctor won’t be giving you a prostate exam once they take your health-care benefits away.”

Read more:

The Health 202: Everything you need to know about who stands where on Cassidy-Graham

Why Senate Republicans are in such a rush this month on health care