Does Calling Kentucky’s Obamacare ‘Fine’ Disqualify McConnell?

Undebatable: Grimes and McConnell in Kentucky, Warner in Virginia, and Cotton in Arkansas offer wince-worthy moments.

National Journal
Ron Fournier
Oct. 14, 2014, 5:23 a.m.

What’s more dis­qual­i­fy­ing? A Demo­crat who re­fuses to say wheth­er she voted for Pres­id­ent Obama, or a Re­pub­lic­an who waffles on Obama­care and es­sen­tially calls it “fine”?

That ques­tion lingers like spoiled milk the day after a clash of cyn­icism in Ken­tucky — Demo­crat­ic chal­lenger Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes versus Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell. Sen­ate cam­paign de­bates in Arkan­sas and Vir­gin­ia were equally dis­pir­it­ing to voters grow­ing tired of crass and cor­rupt polit­ics.

In Ken­tucky, Grimes in­ex­plic­ably stuck with her days-long re­fus­al to say if she voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. A strong ma­jor­ity of Ken­tucky voters dis­ap­prove of the pres­id­ent’s job per­form­ance, and none are stu­pid enough to think that Grimes voted for GOP can­did­ates.

Yet, she in­sisted that if she answered the ques­tion, it would “com­prom­ise a con­sti­tu­tion­al right” to cast a secret bal­lot. That’s pre­pos­ter­ous. While all Amer­ic­ans have a right to a secret bal­lot, Grimes can’t ex­pect Ken­tucky res­id­ents to give her a vote in the Sen­ate if she won’t tell them how she voted in 2012.

What’s more dis­qual­i­fy­ing? A Demo­crat who re­fuses to say wheth­er she voted for Pres­id­ent Obama, or a Re­pub­lic­an who waffles on Obama­care and es­sen­tially calls it “fine”?

That ques­tion lingers like spoiled milk the day after a clash of cyn­icism in Ken­tucky — Demo­crat­ic chal­lenger Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes versus Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell. Sen­ate cam­paign de­bates in Arkan­sas and Vir­gin­ia were equally dis­pir­it­ing to voters grow­ing tired of crass and cor­rupt polit­ics.

In Ken­tucky, Grimes in­ex­plic­ably stuck with her days-long re­fus­al to say if she voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. A strong ma­jor­ity of Ken­tucky voters dis­ap­prove of the pres­id­ent’s job per­form­ance, and none are stu­pid enough to think that Grimes voted for GOP can­did­ates.

Yet, she in­sisted that if she answered the ques­tion, it would “com­prom­ise a con­sti­tu­tion­al right” to cast a secret bal­lot. That’s pre­pos­ter­ous. While all Amer­ic­ans have a right to a secret bal­lot, Grimes can’t ex­pect Ken­tucky res­id­ents to give her a vote in the Sen­ate if she won’t tell them how she voted in 2012.

Mc­Con­nell at­tacked Grimes, then pro­ceeded down his own rab­bit hole. Once again, he stumbled over the Obama­care is­sue by er­ro­neously sug­gest­ing that Ken­tucky’s ver­sion of the re­form is a mere web­site. A half-mil­lion Ken­tucky res­id­ents have been in­sured by Ken­tucky health care ex­change, Kynect.

“The web­site can con­tin­ue, but in my view the best in­terests of the coun­try would be achieved by pulling out Obama­care root and branch,” Mc­Con­nell said.

Pressed re­peatedly to say wheth­er he was en­dors­ing the con­tinu­ation of the state ex­change, Mc­Con­nell said, “Yeah, I think it’s fine to have a web­site.”

He can’t have it both ways. Up­root­ing Obama­care upends Kynect. The Ken­tucky ex­change was cre­ated with $252 mil­lion in fed­er­al grants provided through Obama­care. A crit­ic­al as­pect of the Af­ford­able Care Act — and, by ex­ten­sion, the Ken­tucky plan — is the re­quire­ment that Ken­tucky res­id­ents se­cure health in­sur­ance. A full re­peal of Obama­care would elim­in­ate the grants, place a bur­den on Ken­tucky to fin­ance the ex­change (read: high­er taxes), and scuttle the man­date.

As Glenn Kessler of The Wash­ing­ton Post wrote in his fact-check column, Ken­tucky tried in­sur­ance re­form without a man­date in the 1990s and found it to be a dis­aster.

“The his­tory of in­di­vidu­al state ex­changes shows it is not cred­ible for Mc­Con­nell to sug­gest that the state ex­change would sur­vive without the broad health-care sys­tem con­struc­ted by the Af­ford­able Care Act, such as an in­di­vidu­al man­date and sub­sidies to buy in­sur­ance,” Kessler wrote in May.  “Giv­en the pop­ular­ity of the state ex­change, Mc­Con­nell ap­pears to want to of­fer out hope it would con­tin­ue even in the un­likely case the law was ac­tu­ally re­pealed. That’s likely not a ten­able po­s­i­tion, and we will pay close at­ten­tion to Mc­Con­nell’s phras­ing on this is­sue in the fu­ture. The sen­at­or is clearly try­ing to straddle a polit­ic­al fence; when do­ing so, it’s easy to lose your bal­ance.”

Mc­Con­nell is ped­dling a dis­tinc­tion with little dif­fer­ence. He’s play­ing with the health of 500,000 Ken­tucki­ans. He’s mis­lead­ing con­ser­vat­ives who don’t think Obama­care is “fine.” He’s a hy­po­crite.

In her ham-handed at­tempt to duck Obama, Grimes is show­ing a lack of cour­age, con­vic­tion and polit­ic­al smarts. “I think she dis­qual­i­fied her­self,” my friend Chuck Todd said. Tough ana­lys­is. If run­ning away from Obama is dis­qual­i­fy­ing, play­ing both sides of the fence on Obama­care might be worthy of re­tire­ment.

What’s more dis­qual­i­fy­ing? A Demo­crat who re­fuses to say wheth­er she voted for Pres­id­ent Obama, or a Re­pub­lic­an who waffles on Obama­care and es­sen­tially calls it “fine”?

That ques­tion lingers like spoiled milk the day after a clash of cyn­icism in Ken­tucky — Demo­crat­ic chal­lenger Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes versus Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell. Sen­ate cam­paign de­bates in Arkan­sas and Vir­gin­ia were equally dis­pir­it­ing to voters grow­ing tired of crass and cor­rupt polit­ics.

In Ken­tucky, Grimes in­ex­plic­ably stuck with her days-long re­fus­al to say if she voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. A strong ma­jor­ity of Ken­tucky voters dis­ap­prove of the pres­id­ent’s job per­form­ance, and none are stu­pid enough to think that Grimes voted for GOP can­did­ates.

Yet, she in­sisted that if she answered the ques­tion, it would “com­prom­ise a con­sti­tu­tion­al right” to cast a secret bal­lot. That’s pre­pos­ter­ous. While all Amer­ic­ans have a right to a secret bal­lot, Grimes can’t ex­pect Ken­tucky res­id­ents to give her a vote in the Sen­ate if she won’t tell them how she voted in 2012.

Mc­Con­nell at­tacked Grimes, then pro­ceeded down his own rab­bit hole. Once again, he stumbled over the Obama­care is­sue by er­ro­neously sug­gest­ing that Ken­tucky’s ver­sion of the re­form is a mere web­site. A half-mil­lion Ken­tucky res­id­ents have been in­sured by Ken­tucky health care ex­change, Kynect.

“The web­site can con­tin­ue, but in my view the best in­terests of the coun­try would be achieved by pulling out Obama­care root and branch,” Mc­Con­nell said.

Pressed re­peatedly to say wheth­er he was en­dors­ing the con­tinu­ation of the state ex­change, Mc­Con­nell said, “Yeah, I think it’s fine to have a web­site.”

He can’t have it both ways. Up­root­ing Obama­care upends Kynect. The Ken­tucky ex­change was cre­ated with $252 mil­lion in fed­er­al grants provided through Obama­care. A crit­ic­al as­pect of the Af­ford­able Care Act — and, by ex­ten­sion, the Ken­tucky plan — is the re­quire­ment that Ken­tucky res­id­ents se­cure health in­sur­ance. A full re­peal of Obama­care would elim­in­ate the grants, place a bur­den on Ken­tucky to fin­ance the ex­change (read: high­er taxes), and scuttle the man­date.

As Glenn Kessler of The Wash­ing­ton Post wrote in his fact-check column, Ken­tucky tried in­sur­ance re­form without a man­date in the 1990s and found it to be a dis­aster.

“The his­tory of in­di­vidu­al state ex­changes shows it is not cred­ible for Mc­Con­nell to sug­gest that the state ex­change would sur­vive without the broad health-care sys­tem con­struc­ted by the Af­ford­able Care Act, such as an in­di­vidu­al man­date and sub­sidies to buy in­sur­ance,” Kessler wrote in May.  “Giv­en the pop­ular­ity of the state ex­change, Mc­Con­nell ap­pears to want to of­fer out hope it would con­tin­ue even in the un­likely case the law was ac­tu­ally re­pealed. That’s likely not a ten­able po­s­i­tion, and we will pay close at­ten­tion to Mc­Con­nell’s phras­ing on this is­sue in the fu­ture. The sen­at­or is clearly try­ing to straddle a polit­ic­al fence; when do­ing so, it’s easy to lose your bal­ance.”

Mc­Con­nell is ped­dling a dis­tinc­tion with little dif­fer­ence. He’s play­ing with the health of 500,000 Ken­tucki­ans. He’s mis­lead­ing con­ser­vat­ives who don’t think Obama­care is “fine.” He’s a hy­po­crite.

In her ham-handed at­tempt to duck Obama, Grimes is show­ing a lack of cour­age, con­vic­tion and polit­ic­al smarts. “I think she dis­qual­i­fied her­self,” my friend Chuck Todd said. Tough ana­lys­is. If run­ning away from Obama is dis­qual­i­fy­ing, play­ing both sides of the fence on Obama­care might be worthy of re­tire­ment.

Monday was a bad day for all but the most mas­ochist­ic voters. In Arkan­sas, an am­bi­tious, un­der­achiev­ing first-term House mem­ber reached for the Sen­ate by link­ing Demo­crat­ic in­cum­bent Mark Pry­or to Obama. “A vote for Mark Pry­or is a vote for more of Barack Obama’s policies,” Tom Cot­ton said. It was an es­sen­tially ac­cur­ate quote, but Pry­or pounced with a charge that cast Cot­ton as an ex­ample of what’s wrong with mod­ern polit­ics.

“He hasn’t passed any­thing since he’s been in the House,” Pry­or said. “Even though he was there for one month, and he ran a poll on the Sen­ate race — didn’t even know where the bath­rooms were, but non­ethe­less now thinks he’s en­titled to be in the Sen­ate…. Con­gress­man, you don’t have the repu­ta­tion, abil­ity, or the de­sire to walk across the aisle to get things done in Wash­ing­ton.”

In Vir­gin­ia, Re­pub­lic­an chal­lenger Ed Gillespie at­tacked Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Warner for dis­cuss­ing the pos­sib­il­ity of a fed­er­al judge­ship for the daugh­ter of a state sen­at­or, Phil­lip P. Puck­ett. The chat con­veni­ently oc­curred as Demo­crats were try­ing to per­suade Puck­ett to stay in the Sen­ate so their party could re­tain con­trol of the cham­ber.

“I would nev­er play polit­ics with re­com­mend­ing ju­di­cial ap­point­ments,” Gillespie said.

Warner replied that he simply called Puck­ett’s son to “brain­storm” po­ten­tial jobs for the sen­at­or’s daugh­ter. If he’s telling the truth about his motive — and that’s a big “if” — the con­ver­sa­tion was still out­rageously in­ap­pro­pri­ate. Vir­gini­ans will de­cide wheth­er it’s dis­qual­i­fy­ing.

What’s more dis­qual­i­fy­ing? A Demo­crat who re­fuses to say wheth­er she voted for Pres­id­ent Obama, or a Re­pub­lic­an who waffles on Obama­care and es­sen­tially calls it “fine”?

That ques­tion lingers like spoiled milk the day after a clash of cyn­icism in Ken­tucky — Demo­crat­ic chal­lenger Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes versus Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell. Sen­ate cam­paign de­bates in Arkan­sas and Vir­gin­ia were equally dis­pir­it­ing to voters grow­ing tired of crass and cor­rupt polit­ics.

In Ken­tucky, Grimes in­ex­plic­ably stuck with her days-long re­fus­al to say if she voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. A strong ma­jor­ity of Ken­tucky voters dis­ap­prove of the pres­id­ent’s job per­form­ance, and none are stu­pid enough to think that Grimes voted for GOP can­did­ates.

Yet, she in­sisted that if she answered the ques­tion, it would “com­prom­ise a con­sti­tu­tion­al right” to cast a secret bal­lot. That’s pre­pos­ter­ous. While all Amer­ic­ans have a right to a secret bal­lot, Grimes can’t ex­pect Ken­tucky res­id­ents to give her a vote in the Sen­ate if she won’t tell them how she voted in 2012.

Mc­Con­nell at­tacked Grimes, then pro­ceeded down his own rab­bit hole. Once again, he stumbled over the Obama­care is­sue by er­ro­neously sug­gest­ing that Ken­tucky’s ver­sion of the re­form is a mere web­site. A half-mil­lion Ken­tucky res­id­ents have been in­sured by Ken­tucky health care ex­change, Kynect.

“The web­site can con­tin­ue, but in my view the best in­terests of the coun­try would be achieved by pulling out Obama­care root and branch,” Mc­Con­nell said.

Pressed re­peatedly to say wheth­er he was en­dors­ing the con­tinu­ation of the state ex­change, Mc­Con­nell said, “Yeah, I think it’s fine to have a web­site.”

He can’t have it both ways. Up­root­ing Obama­care upends Kynect. The Ken­tucky ex­change was cre­ated with $252 mil­lion in fed­er­al grants provided through Obama­care. A crit­ic­al as­pect of the Af­ford­able Care Act — and, by ex­ten­sion, the Ken­tucky plan — is the re­quire­ment that Ken­tucky res­id­ents se­cure health in­sur­ance. A full re­peal of Obama­care would elim­in­ate the grants, place a bur­den on Ken­tucky to fin­ance the ex­change (read: high­er taxes), and scuttle the man­date.

As Glenn Kessler of The Wash­ing­ton Post wrote in his fact-check column, Ken­tucky tried in­sur­ance re­form without a man­date in the 1990s and found it to be a dis­aster.

“The his­tory of in­di­vidu­al state ex­changes shows it is not cred­ible for Mc­Con­nell to sug­gest that the state ex­change would sur­vive without the broad health-care sys­tem con­struc­ted by the Af­ford­able Care Act, such as an in­di­vidu­al man­date and sub­sidies to buy in­sur­ance,” Kessler wrote in May.  “Giv­en the pop­ular­ity of the state ex­change, Mc­Con­nell ap­pears to want to of­fer out hope it would con­tin­ue even in the un­likely case the law was ac­tu­ally re­pealed. That’s likely not a ten­able po­s­i­tion, and we will pay close at­ten­tion to Mc­Con­nell’s phras­ing on this is­sue in the fu­ture. The sen­at­or is clearly try­ing to straddle a polit­ic­al fence; when do­ing so, it’s easy to lose your bal­ance.”

Mc­Con­nell is ped­dling a dis­tinc­tion with little dif­fer­ence. He’s play­ing with the health of 500,000 Ken­tucki­ans. He’s mis­lead­ing con­ser­vat­ives who don’t think Obama­care is “fine.” He’s a hy­po­crite.

In her ham-handed at­tempt to duck Obama, Grimes is show­ing a lack of cour­age, con­vic­tion and polit­ic­al smarts. “I think she dis­qual­i­fied her­self,” my friend Chuck Todd said. Tough ana­lys­is. If run­ning away from Obama is dis­qual­i­fy­ing, play­ing both sides of the fence on Obama­care might be worthy of re­tire­ment.

Monday was a bad day for all but the most mas­ochist­ic voters. In Arkan­sas, an am­bi­tious, un­der­achiev­ing first-term House mem­ber reached for the Sen­ate by link­ing Demo­crat­ic in­cum­bent Mark Pry­or to Obama. “A vote for Mark Pry­or is a vote for more of Barack Obama’s policies,” Tom Cot­ton said. It was an es­sen­tially ac­cur­ate quote, but Pry­or pounced with a charge that cast Cot­ton as an ex­ample of what’s wrong with mod­ern polit­ics.

“He hasn’t passed any­thing since he’s been in the House,” Pry­or said. “Even though he was there for one month, and he ran a poll on the Sen­ate race — didn’t even know where the bath­rooms were, but non­ethe­less now thinks he’s en­titled to be in the Sen­ate…. Con­gress­man, you don’t have the repu­ta­tion, abil­ity, or the de­sire to walk across the aisle to get things done in Wash­ing­ton.”

In Vir­gin­ia, Re­pub­lic­an chal­lenger Ed Gillespie at­tacked Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Warner for dis­cuss­ing the pos­sib­il­ity of a fed­er­al judge­ship for the daugh­ter of a state sen­at­or, Phil­lip P. Puck­ett. The chat con­veni­ently oc­curred as Demo­crats were try­ing to per­suade Puck­ett to stay in the Sen­ate so their party could re­tain con­trol of the cham­ber.

“I would nev­er play polit­ics with re­com­mend­ing ju­di­cial ap­point­ments,” Gillespie said.

Warner replied that he simply called Puck­ett’s son to “brain­storm” po­ten­tial jobs for the sen­at­or’s daugh­ter. If he’s telling the truth about his motive — and that’s a big “if” — the con­ver­sa­tion was still out­rageously in­ap­pro­pri­ate. Vir­gini­ans will de­cide wheth­er it’s dis­qual­i­fy­ing.

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