Some the most endangered GOP members may have just become more vulnerable.
Of the 23 Republicans sitting in districts that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, 14 voted Thursday afternoon in favor of the GOP’s Obamacare repeal—an issue which Democrats have promised to make a focal point of midterm elections.
Members like Reps. Carlos Curbelo of Florida and David Valadao of California—whose districts both backed Clinton by double-digits—voted with House leadership on their second attempt to pass the American Health Care Act. Other “yes” votes from members sitting atop Democrats’ 2018 target list: Reps. Darrell Issa of California, Erik Paulsen of Minnesota, and Martha McSally of Arizona.
Few of the Clinton-district GOP incumbents had publicly signaled support for the bill as House leadership raced to finalize the whip count. But members who voted “aye” were quick to put out statements describing their votes as the fulfillment of a major campaign promise.
“Today’s vote gives a voice to the victims of Obamacare, the millions of Americans who are paying higher premiums, receiving less coverage and for whom the status quo offered no end in sight,” Issa said in a release.
Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder, whose Kansas City-area district Clinton won by a point, struck a similar tone, noting his “yes” vote chooses “markets over mandates, innovation over regulation, and patients over bureaucrats.” And Curbelo released a three-minute YouTube video touting the parts of Obamacare that remain in the new plan.
All seven members of the California delegation who hold Clinton-won districts backed the bill. Valadao and Reps. Jeff Denham and Steve Knight, whose districts Trump lost by 3 and 7 points, respectively, had been publicly undecided as of Thursday morning. But they signaled that they would be likely “yes” votes after they signed on as cosponsors to an amendment from Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan that would provide an additional $8 billion to cover those with preexisting conditions.
Yet, after seven years of making the repeal a party rallying cry, 20 Republicans still voted against it, many citing concerns over its lack of protection for those with preexisting conditions, even with Upton’s amendment.
Nearly half of the GOP nays, such as Reps. Barbara Comstock of Virginia and Will Hurd of Texas, came from districts that Trump didn’t carry, though many of those incumbents insisted the midterm elections didn’t factor into their motivations.
“I’m not looking for political cover. It was just the right vote for my district,” said Rep. John Katko, who won his upstate New York district by 22 points even as Clinton won by 4. “That’s all I’m concerned about.”
But even some members who didn’t back the bill acknowledged the vote was still politically difficult.
“I come from a district that—part of it’s in the Seattle metropolitan area and the other piece is over the Cascade mountains, so there’s a lot of variety of opinion,” said Rep. Dave Reichert of Washington as he left the House Chamber on Thursday, noting that he hoped the Senate addressed his concerns over preexisting-condition coverage.
Democrats insisted Thursday that the extra money allocated in Upton’s amendment would be inadequate to cover the health costs of Americans with preexisting conditions, and they suggested it would play a major part in their midterm strategy.
“Which part of a completely objectionable bill is the most objectionable?” said Rep. Denny Heck, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recruitment chair, speculating on what might be the most effective parts to highlight in 2018 ads and messaging.
An updated Congressional Budget Office score for the new bill was not available at the time of the vote—something Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado cited as a reason for voting against it. A biennial Democratic target, Coffman holds a suburban Denver district that Clinton carried by 9 points.
House Democrats have already begun hitting the 14 GOP members who sent the bill out of committees, launching a five-figure digital-ad buy after Republican leadership pulled the initial version of the bill in March. Four of those members voted against the repeal on Thursday.
Still, history shows a “no” vote doesn’t always provide enough political protection, especially in wave-like conditions. Of the 34 House Democrats who eschewed the 2010 Affordable Care Act, exactly half lost reelection anyway as the GOP won a whopping 63 seats.
Even Blue Dog Democrats like Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, who spent 34 years casting socially conservative votes, couldn’t convince voters to send him back to Congress despite his vote against Obamacare.
The DCCC seems to be hoping for a similar result for Republicans in 2018. It unveiled its new digital-ad campaign just minutes after the vote was final, blasting Republicans in 30 target districts, including six who voted against the bill.
“No matter how I vote there’s potential ramifications,” said Republican Rep. Ryan Costello, a “nay” vote whose suburban Philadelphia district Clinton narrowly won last year.
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