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Opinion Republicans furious with Trump for making it harder to lie about health care

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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As we’ve been discussing here, the Trump administration has fully embraced a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the Affordable Care Act entirely based on a legal theory that is being widely dismissed by commentators across the spectrum as nothing but a bad joke.

The problem is that a Texas judge has decided that this joke is good law, and has struck down the entire ACA as unconstitutional, using logic that is bafflingly difficult to follow. That’s up on appeal, however, and no doubt many Republicans have quietly been hoping against hope that the lawsuit — which was brought by a group of Republican attorneys general — ultimately fails.

Yet the Trump administration embraced the lawsuit. This apparently surprised many Republicans, who didn’t see it coming. And now Axios reports that Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, has privately vented his displeasure to Trump himself over the administration’s new stance:

McCarthy told Trump over the phone that the decision made no sense — especially after Democrats killed Republicans in the midterms in part over the issue of pre-existing conditions, according to two sources familiar with their recent conversation. ...
McCarthy is far from alone in his view. Republican lawmakers and officials are exasperated about the Justice Department’s position ...
Multiple GOP sources — from the most conservative to the most moderate wing of the party — have told Axios that they can’t fathom why the president would want to re-litigate an issue that has been a clear loser for Republicans.

Trump, however, is unconcerned. He blithely asserted: “The Republican Party will soon be known as the party of health care.”

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But Axios reports that this “substance-free declaration” from Trump has left Republican lawmakers and officials “exasperated."

Yet it’s worth getting at why this exasperates them. As the Axios report notes, Republicans know this is a loser for them, because the issue just cost them the House. As Sahil Kapur points out, in 2018 health care was the top issue for midterm voters, and those who cited it as their number one issue went for the Democratic candidates by more than 50 points. This came after they had just tried and failed to repeal Obamacare.

Now Trump publicly recommitted his party to total repeal, which has got Republicans angry with him. But what’s amusing is that this actually is the GOP’s current stance. Sure, Republicans are rhetorically committed to keeping some form of protections for preexisting conditions (just not the ones Obamacare has put in place). But as Peter Suderman notes, there’s still no serious GOP plan for actually doing this, precisely because Republicans won’t make the hard policy choices necessary to create such a plan.

So their position, functionally, is still full repeal. Republicans just want to be able to say they’re also for protecting preexisting conditions, without saying how.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because we’ve seen this before, and this history makes the Republican anger over this even more comical. During the 2018 elections, Democratic candidates relentlessly pummeled Republicans for voting to do away with those protections. Untold numbers of GOP incumbents and candidates responded by lying about their true intentions, claiming that they wanted to keep those protections.

Jonathan Cohn had a good piece outlining the true dimensions of this deception campaign. It wasn’t just that many of those Republicans had already voted to roll back those very protections as part of the Obamacare repeal effort. It’s also that even before voting that way, many Republicans had also vowed to keep those protections — before reneging on that promise. Small wonder that voters didn’t believe them the second time — and voted in a Democratic House.

So this lie failed for Republicans. And so, when McCarthy rips into Trump for embracing this lawsuit as a proven loser for them, what he really means is that being too closely associated with actual repeal is a loser. Republicans would like to keep saying they support repeal while also claiming to want to protect people with preexisting conditions. Tying Republicans too closely to a lawsuit that would wipe all of it away inconveniently puts pressure on them to say how they would do that.

Trump, though, didn’t get the memo, or doesn’t understand the memo. He thinks he and Republicans are supposed to actually support repeal. Or he’s still so gung-ho about destroying Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement that he doesn’t care what this means for the rest of his party.

Or perhaps Trump actually thinks that if the courts ultimately do strike down the ACA, he and the GOP can this time magically hatch a replacement and get the Democratic House to go along with it. Perhaps Trump doesn’t understand that you’re merely supposed to say that you have a way to replace the ACA. You’re not supposed to actually believe it!

Whatever is driving this, it will badly complicate Republicans’ efforts to pretend to be for protecting people with preexisting conditions. No wonder McCarthy is so angry.

Read more:

Nicholas Bagley: The latest ACA ruling is raw judicial activism and impossible to defend

Paul Waldman: The Trump administration just handed Democrats their best 2020 issue

Greg Sargent: There’s widespread support for overhauling health care in a more progressive direction

Karen Tumulty: Trump just handed Pelosi the best birthday gift she could ask for

David Kendall and Jim Kessler: We don’t need government-run health care to get to affordable, universal coverage