House Democrats seeking to draw a sharp contrast with President Trump on health care are pressing the administration for details on its decision to join a lawsuit to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
Five chairmen of House committees sent letters to White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Attorney General William P. Barr on Monday demanding eight categories of documents pertaining to Trump’s decision to direct the Justice Department to intervene in a federal-court case seeking to eliminate the ACA in its entirety on constitutional grounds.
The chairmen had requested the information in early April, but the deadline came and went without a reply from the White House.
“This action could deprive millions of Americans of health insurance coverage, including 133 million people with preexisting conditions,” they wrote. “Given the grave consequences that would result if the Trump administration’s legal position were to prevail, it is Congress’s responsibility as an independent and coequal branch of government to understand how this decision was made.”
Trump has vowed to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law and maintains that Republicans will come up with a replacement. The GOP voted dozens of times to repeal and replace the 2010 law during Obama’s two terms. When Trump took office and Republicans controlled the Senate and House in 2017, they failed to produce an alternative to the law.
The letters from the committee chairmen come as House Democrats go on offense on health care, an issue that carried them to the majority in the 2018 election as they argued Republicans would deny Americans the benefits of the law.
House Democratic leaders have scheduled a series of health-care votes this week aimed at protecting people with preexisting medical conditions and other health initiatives, hoping to contrast their policy ideas with Trump’s.
With a long list of high-profile investigations into the president, however, Democrats have found it difficult to break through and get their health-care message across to voters. It has caused some consternation among moderates and in leadership.
The committee chairmen — Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) of Oversight, Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) of Ways and Means, Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) of Judiciary, Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) of Energy and Commerce, and Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) of Education and Labor — are threatening that “if we do not receive a response . . . we will have no choice but to consider alternative means of obtaining compliance.”
It is unclear what they are referring to when they say “alternative means.” But Democratic investigators have been threatening to fine and even jail obstinate Trump officials as the president moves to block their investigations.
Democrats have questioned whether the White House leaned on the Justice Department to convince officials to reverse their prior legal conclusion on Obamacare and instead try to tear down the law. It is unusual for the Justice Department to make such a move, they argue.
“The faulty legal reasoning in this submission underscores the concerns we raised in our letter that politically-motivated forces inside the White House and the Office of Management and Budget may have brought undue pressure on the Department of Justice to reverse its prior legal conclusions and disregard its own legal reasoning in violation of the Constitution’s solemn charge to ‘take care that the laws are faithfully executed,’’’ the chairmen wrote.
The committee chairmen gave the White House a May 27 deadline for the documents. The chairmen are also asking to interview Russ Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, the same day.