The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion What do Republicans need to win? Selective memory loss.

Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from Maine, on Capitol Hill in November 2014, shortly after being elected to the House.
Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from Maine, on Capitol Hill in November 2014, shortly after being elected to the House. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Is selective memory loss a preexisting condition?

Embattled incumbent Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine) stands accused of voting against health care for more than 100,000 Mainers. “To clarify,” a reporter for the local ABC affiliate asked Poliquin recently, “did you vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act?”

“No,” Poliquin said. “I voted for a replacement plan.” He went on to claim he was “one of three Republicans in the country” against repealing Obamacare without a replacement.

Alas for Poliquin, the image on screen switched to the House floor, with a voice-over: “Poliquin did vote for the ACA repeal bill.”

Indeed, Poliquin helped the American Health Care Act, the repeal bill even President Trump later described as “mean,” clear the House by four votes. It would have weakened protections for those with preexisting conditions.

It wasn’t Poliquin’s first attempt at airbrushing his past. His website, which in 2016 promised to “end Obamacare,” has now struck that language in favor of “protecting our hospitals and healthcare access.”

Follow Dana Milbank's opinionsFollow

Poliquin is part of an elaborate attempt at a midterm hoax: Republicans convincing the public that they did not try to repeal Obamacare and its preexisting-conditions protections, and that they would again not do so if reelected.

With the Affordable Care Act hitting record support in a recent Fox News poll , and preexisting-conditions protections remaining overwhelmingly popular, congressional Republicans have recently sought inoculation by introducing various proposals they say would protect people with preexisting conditions. And they are vigorously scrubbing their records, according to archived versions of their websites reviewed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Rep. Tom MacArthur’s (R-N.J.) site last year vowed: “Tom will work to repeal Obamacare, but won’t stop there.” Now? “Tom opposed his own party’s efforts at a speedy Obamacare repeal.”

Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.), in 2016, had a pledge: “I will do everything I can to repeal every word of Obamacare.” That passage is now repealed from his website.

Rep. Leonard Lance’s (R-N.J.) website, in 2016, boasted that “Lance is on the front-lines in the fight to repeal and replace Obamacare.” Now, that same passage has been rewritten: “Lance is leading the fight for real Health Care Reform.”

Their problem: Of the 73 incumbent House Republicans in competitive races, 67 voted at least once to eliminate Obamacare’s protections for those with preexisting conditions, according to an analysis by the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund.

This week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) revived the prospect of repealing Obamacare after next month’s midterm elections, telling Reuters: “If we had the votes to completely start over, we’d do it. But that depends on what happens in a couple weeks.”

Republicans and the Trump administration have done everything short of full repeal to sabotage Obamacare. This week, the administration tapped to run the Medicaid program Mary Mayhew, a former Maine health commissioner who fought Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion — even defying a voter referendum.

The former hospital lobbyist boasted that Medicaid enrollment fell 24 percent on her watch. A federal investigation found that Mayhew’s department didn’t investigate 133 deaths of Medicaid beneficiaries with developmental disabilities.

Yet, embattled Republicans now ask voters to ignore the past. Attorneys General Josh Hawley of Missouri and Patrick Morrisey of West Virginia both joined a lawsuit that would eliminate protections for preexisting conditions but now, as Senate candidates, they both claim to support such protections.

In Arizona, Republican Senate candidate Martha McSally said, “I voted to protect people with preexisting conditions.” But on the eve of the big repeal vote last year, McSally reportedly urged her House GOP colleagues to get this “f---ing thing done.”

Gone from the website of Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) is his boast that he “secured full congressional passage for the first time of legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare.” In its place: “member of the House bipartisan task force to combat the heroin epidemic.”

Struck from the website of Rep. John Carter (R-Tex.) is his announcement that “I will not apologize for continually voting to delay, defund, and dismantle Obamacare.”

In lieu of the promise from Rep. John Faso (R-N.Y.) that “I will seek to repeal and replace Obamacare” is a claim that “John is working to reform our healthcare system with commonsense solutions.”

Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio), before: “Dave Joyce has fought to defund, repeal or delay ‘Obamacare’ every chance he’s had, 30+ times.” Joyce, now: “Dave has been a strong advocate in the fight against the opioid epidemic.”

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who proclaimed himself “a national leader in the fight” against Obamacare,” instead now cites his “bipartisan work for better healthcare.”

Similar cases have been reported in California, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Montana and North Dakota. This raises a frightening epidemiological possibility: Selective memory loss is spreading, and it has become a necessary pre-condition to run as a Republican this year.

Twitter: @Milbank

Read more from Dana Milbank’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Voters want more health care; women want more Democrats

Paul Waldman: Republicans undertake a last-minute push of desperate lying

Ed Rogers: Democrats are lying on health care

Robert J. Samuelson: Where did our raises go? To health care.