The Obamacare repeal vote on Thursday could send dozens of House Republicans to electoral doom next fall — a mirror image of the shellacking Democrats suffered after passing the law seven years ago.
Strategists in both parties already believed the House could be up for grabs in 2018, as it often is two years into a new presidency. But the Obamacare repeal vote was as emotionally charged as they come on Capitol Hill, and a handful of Republicans in districts won by Hillary Clinton may have very well written their political obituary by voting yes.
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These Republicans now have targets on their backs. Lawmakers like GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, who narrowly won reelection in 2016 even as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton carried his district, will undoubtedly face pressure over their votes.
"We saw what happened when health care reform — an issue impacting one-fifth of our economy — was rushed through Congress along extremely partisan lines in 2009," GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a freshman who opposed the bill Thursday, said in a statement.
A single congressional vote can certainly rock the power structure on Capitol Hill. For former President Barack Obama and Democrats, it was cap-and-trade and health care reform in 2009 and 2010 — Republicans swept the house the next year. For Bill Clinton, it was his tax-raising 1993 budget — Republicans took both chambers in 1994. George W. Bush’s backlash midterm waited until his second term, but his ill-fated plan to reform Social Security played a key role in the 2006 Democratic takeover of Congress.
And for President Donald Trump and this generation of House Republicans, the narrow passage of Obamacare repeal — which polls poorly, is likely to be rewritten in the Senate, and includes provisions that are projected to raise costs for older voters, who reliably get out to the polls during midterms — could hurt them in 2018.
Democrats have readied a slew of talking points against the legislation: It weakens protections for people with pre-existing conditions, it allows insurers to charge older people five times as much for health insurance, it includes massive tax cuts for the wealthy and for insurance executives, and it has been projected to cause 24 million people to lose insurance coverage over the next decade.
Republicans argue they are fulfilling a promise to the American people by repealing Obamacare, and the party is already gearing up to defend its vulnerable members.
The nonprofit American Action Network and its sister super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund — outside groups aligned with Republican leaders — are prepared to spend millions on television ads and have already opened field offices in districts for many vulnerable members. (The groups pulled support for GOP Rep. David Young in March when he came out against the previous version of the Republican health care bill.)
“We will do everything in our power to defend and protect all members who stand with President Trump and Speaker [Paul] Ryan to fix our nation’s broken health care system,” American Action Network executive director Corry Bliss said.
During that 1993 budget vote, Republican members famously and facetiously waved goodbye to Democratic Rep. Marjorie Margolies after she cast the deciding vote for the plan, following a phone call from Bill Clinton. On Thursday, Democrats sang “Na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye” as the vote count hit 217. Here’s who they were serenading.
Rep. Darrell Issa of California (Hillary Clinton won 51 percent in his district while Issa won 50 percent in 2016)
Issa, the former House Oversight chairman who delighted in tormenting the Obama administration, won reelection to his seat in Orange County by just 5,000 votes in 2016. He, along with a slew of other vulnerable Republicans in the California delegation, voted for the bill — at least partially out of loyalty to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Issa’s opponent last cycle, retired Marine Col. Doug Applegate, has already launched a second challenge. But such is the opportunity Democrats sense in fast-changing Southern California that another Democrat, Mike Levin, has also jumped into the race. Other Orange County Republicans like Reps. Mimi Walters and Dana Rohrabacher, whose districts also went for Clinton (and who also voted for the GOP bill), have already attracted multiple Democratic primary challengers as well.
Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona (Clinton: 50 percent, McSally: 57 percent in 2016)
Republicans have always considered McSally, a former Air Force fighter pilot, to be one of their brightest rising stars and most capable battleground-district fundraisers and campaigners. She defeated popular Democratic Rep. Ron Barber — a Gabrielle Giffords staffer who was wounded in the mass shooting that also seriously injured Giffords — by fewer than 200 votes in 2014. Reports indicate she was all-in on the GOP health care legislation, telling her fellow Republicans in a conference meeting to get this “f—ing thing” done, and McSally authored an amendment to force Congress to follow the law. But McSally’s district is a prototypical Sun Belt battleground seat, and Democrats note she’s on tape multiple times promising to protect people with pre-existing conditions, an area where Democrats argue this legislation falls short.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida (Clinton: 57 percent, Curbelo: 53 percent in 2016)
Curbelo may be the most vulnerable House Republican in 2018. Clinton easily won his district, which is heavy on both older and Hispanic voters who could also see big coverage losses under the legislation. (Rep. David Valadao, another Republican in a Latino-heavy district who voted for the bill, will see nearly 80,000 coverage losses in his district by 2026, according to projections from the liberal Center for American Progress that Democrats will undoubtedly wield against him.) Another problem for Curbelo: Retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from the district next door, has loudly criticized the GOP health care bill, which could amplify and validate Democratic attacks on Curbelo over the legislation.
Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois (Clinton: 50 percent, Roskam: 60 percent in 2016)
On Thursday morning, Democrat Kelly Mazeski, a breast cancer survivor, entered the contest — one of a slew of candidates with pre-existing conditions or personal experience with the travails of the health care system whom Democrats expect to see run this cycle. Roskam comes from an increasingly diverse district in the western suburbs of Chicago that has trended Democratic at the presidential level. He faced tough races in the past, though redistricting shifted his district into more safely Republican territory six years ago. “It’s time the people of Illinois’ 6th District hold Peter Roskam accountable for voting to make Americans pay more and get less for their health care,” Mazeski said in announcing her bid.
Rep. Erik Paulsen of Minnesota (Clinton: 51 percent, Paulsen: 57 percent in 2016)
Paulsen represents a district in the western suburbs of Minneapolis that Democrats have narrowly carried at the presidential level since 2008. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has long made him a target, especially because he originally won his seat in a three-way race where an independent drew support away from the Democratic candidate. But his reelection bids have all been easy: The 56.9 percent he drew in 2016 was his lowest vote total. Still, Paulsen came off the fence only in the final hours before the vote, perhaps indicating he sees some vulnerability in his decision.
Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas (Clinton: 49 percent, Sessions: 71 percent in 2016)
Sessions’ seat swung sharply from 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney to Clinton in 2016, with voters reacting negatively to Trump. It’s far too early to know whether that heralds a more permanent political shift in the Dallas suburbs or whether it was a one-time fluke event amid a strange presidential election. But Sessions’ Obamacare-repeal vote tosses another variable in to the mix. Democrats have two interesting candidates, NFL player-turned-civil rights lawyer Colin Allred and former Clinton aide Ed Meier, already running against the incumbent.
Rep. John Katko of New York (Clinton: 49 percent, Katko: 61 percent in 2016)
Of the members on this list, Katko should be among the safest: He’s voting against the legislation. Katko also won reelection with a comfy 61 percent of the vote in traditionally Democratic territory in 2016. But many members who voted against unpopular bills have still found themselves out of a job after the next election, anyway. Of the 34 Democrats who voted against Obamacare in 2010, more than half were out of Congress by the next year. Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock, Texas Rep. Will Hurd and Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman, who also voted no, will also face pressure from Democrats regardless of their votes. And unlike their colleagues who voted for the legislation, they won’t see any of the $7 million American Action Network has set aside specifically to defend vulnerable members over the next two months.