House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday that single-payer health insurance is not a litmus test for Democrats and that she is focused on protecting health-care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Pelosi (D-Calif.) declined to endorse "Medicare for All" legislation backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and instead called on Democrats to release a wide range of proposals to fix and improve President Barack Obama's signature health-care law. Her position on health care is the latest evidence that Democrats in the House are willing to ignore pressure from liberal factions aiming to drive the party further to the left.
"I don't think it's a litmus test," Pelosi said in an interview. "What we want is to have as many people as possible, everybody, covered, and I think that's something that we all embrace."
Pelosi said that she would like a variety of health-care ideas to be vetted and analyzed by budget scorekeepers but that she thinks none of them will succeed while the ACA is under attack from Republicans.
"Right now I'm protecting the Affordable Care Act," Pelosi said. "None of these things, whether it's Bernie's or others, can really prevail unless we protect the Affordable Care Act."
Some liberal factions of the Democratic Party have complained in recent months that Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the two most powerful elected Democrats in Washington, have been unwilling to listen to demands from the progressive base. Many were angry last week after Pelosi and Schumer struck a deal with President Trump to increase the federal borrowing limit and extend current spending levels through December.
Progressives such as Reps. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) and Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said the Democratic base is not interested in working with Trump. Instead, they want action on key agenda items such as securing legal protections for those immigrants who benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Trump began winding down last week.
"Our base is deeply alienated from this president," Connolly said in an interview with The Washington Post. "Our base is not saying, 'Work with him, try to find some common ground.' "
Similarly, many liberal activist groups have been pushing Democrats to embrace a bill Sanders is expected to unveil this week that would extend Medicare coverage to all Americans. The plan has gained some support, including endorsements from Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.). But the plan is not expected to win the backing of a majority of Democrats.
Progressives were similarly frustrated earlier this year when Pelosi declared that Democrats should not demand support for abortion rights as a litmus test for candidates.
Pelosi, who grew up in a Catholic family that has played a powerful role in Democratic politics in Baltimore, defended her position by arguing that many of her family members "are not pro-choice."
"Most of those people — my family, extended family — are not pro-choice," Pelosi said in an interview with Post reporters. "You think I'm kicking them out of the Democratic Party?"
Pelosi defended her progressive credentials and the decision to negotiate with Trump, saying she has a long history as a liberal lawmaker.
"Fortunately, I'm a progressive from San Francisco. I'm a liberal, and I have my own credibility on these subjects," Pelosi said. "While we all share our values and priorities and the rest, I think Chuck [Schumer] and I are both strong Democrats."
Both Democratic leaders have said they think it is their job to work with Trump where possible to pass legislation that meets the values of the party. Pelosi said it is her job to get bills passed.
"You can never satisfy everybody," Pelosi said. "We don't have a responsibility to get nothing done."
Several political organizations supportive of Sanders have said voters should reject any Democrats who do not support "Medicare for All." Nina Turner, who now leads Sanders's Our Revolution group, told Politico this summer that there was "something wrong" with Democrats who did not endorse it. The People for Bernie, a group that grew out of the Occupy Wall Street movement, started the week by urging progressives to call Democrats and demand that they endorse Sanders's bill.
But in an interview last month with The Post, Sanders said that he would continue supporting Democrats who declined to endorse his bill.
"Is this a litmus test? No, you have to look at where candidates are on many issues," Sanders said. "But you're seeing more and more movement toward 'Medicare for All.' When the people are saying we need health care for everyone, as more and more Americans come on board, it will become politically possible."