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Fred Barnes: Republicans Aren't Team Players


If you're a Republican lawmaker pledged to get rid of Obamacare, some tough options are looming. Faced with an impasse in the Senate, President Trump has tried different poses on different recent days. One day he says, just do nothing; let the Affordable Care Act fail - although it's not clear that the law will fail on its own. Another day, Trump urges Republicans to act after all.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm ready to act. I have pen in hand. Believe me. I'm sitting in that office. I have pen in hand. You never had that before. You know, for seven years, you had an easy route. We'll repeal. We'll replace. And he's never going to sign it.

INSKEEP: That's precisely the problem. It was easy to rail against Obamacare then. Now that a president is willing to sign what they pass, many lawmakers focus on people who would actually go off health insurance - or other issues.

Fred Barnes has been watching all this from his post as executive editor of the conservative publication The Weekly Standard. Mr. Barnes, good morning.

FRED BARNES: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Is it true that Republicans face the consequences of making a promise on health care that maybe some of them never really meant?

BARNES: Well, I think they meant it (laughter) actually. But they didn't realize the tensions and - that would happen and the difficulty it would be to actually vote for it when it could go into effect, in other words vote for repealing Obamacare and sticking in a plan of their own for health care.

INSKEEP: What makes it so hard for Republicans to unite behind an approach?

BARNES: Well, look, Republicans are divided on a lot of issues. There's a conservative wing and a moderate wing, and then there's some people in between. The odd thing about this health care issue is they were not divided on it. They all voted for it. Over the years, they put it in their - it was the No. 1 thing on their agenda.

I mean, Steve, how many times have you and I heard that this is the worst piece of legislation I've ever seen, by members of Congress, saying that, Republicans. And - but when they wind up to have to do something, they realize that there are a lot of people who are unhappy with it. I don't know that they're a majority, but they are unhappy with it. And that just comes so - that's so very difficult.

INSKEEP: Although they have reasons - I mean, you've written about Dean Heller, the Republican senator from Nevada, who's been very critical. When it gets down to looking at the substance of an actual replacement bill, he does the numbers and says, look, hundreds of thousands of people in my state, Nevada, would go off insurance. He doesn't like that.

BARNES: Well, he doesn't like it. And - but one of the key things in the Republican plan is to scale back Medicaid, you know, the...


BARNES: ...Health care insurance mainly for poor people. And he realized in Nevada, which actually implemented, under Obamacare, this expansion of Medicaid, he realized that that was going to make a lot of people very, very unhappy. He's in a very tough election situation. He's running next year for re-election in Nevada, and he just didn't want to do it.

And of course, President Trump has mocked him on this and did at the White House a couple days ago. But, you know, that's not going to have any effect on his vote.

INSKEEP: I want to ask one question about Medicaid and the way that conservatives think about it. We do have this quote from Kellyanne Conway, presidential counselor, who's basically said - so what if Medicaid is contracted again? If people are able-bodied, she said on TV, and they want to work, then they'll have employer-sponsored benefits, like you and I do.

But I looked up some numbers. The vast majority of non-seniors on Medicaid, like three quarters of them, at least one person in the family is working. Many of them are working a full-time job, still, apparently, don't have employer-sponsored insurance. Is it possible some Republicans are stopping at the edge because there are people who seem to actually need the insurance?

BARNES: I think that is the reason. The people who need it and at the very least want it, then it turns out to be just hard to cut, you know. Steve, it's hard to take things away from people that they have or are expecting to have under this expansion of Medicaid. And when you try to do that, you get a lot of complaints.

INSKEEP: Do you think it's time for Republicans in Congress to try to work more closely with Democrats?

BARNES: Well, they're going to have to on this because what's going to happen is we will - I don't think Republicans are going to be able to reach anything in the Senate where they can pass their plan.

So you go back to - what will we have? We'll have Obamacare, but it is not in good shape. It needs to be bailed out and the insurance companies and so on. Republicans - you probably saw President Trump said, hey, I won't own it. We're not going to own it.


BARNES: But the truth is they will own it because they have the House, the Senate and the White House. And they're going to have to do something, so they're going to have to, at least in the short run, bail out Obamacare, which is the farthest thing from what they wanted.

INSKEEP: This is because, you suggest, Republicans have a hard time being team players.

BARNES: Well, they just aren't very good team players. They think, particularly on this, the issue they agreed on, I mean, here they were looking at it. And then they split on different things. Some didn't want Medicaid to be cut. Some were demanding it would be cut. And they thought their immediate concerns were more important than the future of a better health care plan.

INSKEEP: Fred Barnes, a pleasure talking with you. Thank you very much.

BARNES: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: He runs The Weekly Standard. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.