Politics

Health Care Backlash Prompts MacArthur to Resign as Co-Chair of Tuesday Group

‘Clearly, our group is divided’

Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., walks through Statuary Hall on his way to the House floor in the Capitol for the votes on repeal and replace of Obamacare on Thursday, May 4, 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur has stepped down as co-chair of the moderate Republican Tuesday Group.

“I’ve been thinking about it since the day we voted on health care,” MacArthur told reporters Tuesday, describing divisions in the group.

“There are people that have bristled with me engaging with the Freedom Caucus,” he said. “I’m going to do that again. That’s who I am. I’m going to work with everyone.”

Still, MacArthur said he did not feel pressure to resign as the backlash against him over the health care negotiations “had settled down somewhat.” Rather, he said he is stepping down because he thinks it’s the right thing to do.

“You can’t lead people where they don’t want to go,” MacArthur said. “And I just resolved in my own mind the group needs to be free to do what it wants, I need to be able to do what I think is right.”

He said he made the final decision to step down from his post over the weekend and informed Speaker Paul D. Ryan of his pending move on Monday. As one of the Tuesday Group co-chairs, MacArthur had been part of the speaker’s advisory group that meets weekly.

Reps. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and Elise Stefanik of New York remain co-chairs of the group. Dent said they have not decided yet whether to replace MacArthur or operate with just two co-chairs.

MacArthur wrote a letter of resignation to the Tuesday Group, which he read to members present for their weekly meeting, according to Rep. Chris Collins.

“We did not ask for his resignation,” Collins said.

MacArthur said he plans to remain a member of the group. “When I resigned they asked me to stay involved,” he said. “I’ve been very involved in it, and I imagine I’ll continue to be.”

MacArthur is a friend and colleague and remains “a valued member of the group,” Dent said, adding he has nothing else to say about the matter.

Asked if the caucus would have taken action to remove MacArthur as co-chair had he not resigned, Dent said, “I wouldn’t speculate.”

Stefanik referred all questions on the matter to MacArthur.

MacArthur said he did not expect the caucus to convene all 54 members (on average about half show up for the weekly meetings) to vote him out and elect a new co-chair.

MacArthur had faced backlash from his colleagues in the centrist caucus after he negotiated an amendment to the GOP health care bill with House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows. Many members of the Tuesday Group felt the amendment moved the bill further to the right and created problems ensuring coverage for certain people with pre-existing conditions.

While his negotiating with the Freedom Caucus was of primary concern, “some of the members just didn’t like that health care was revived in the first place,” MacArthur said.

Dent and other Tuesday Group members had publicly raised concerns about the appearance that MacArthur was negotiating on behalf of the group — something the co-chairs had agreed not to do because of the diverse opinions of its members, according to Dent.

MacArthur said he made clear to Meadows and Ryan and others that he was not negotiating on behalf of the Tuesday Group, but that narrative was hard to combat.

“The problem is that when you’re chair everything you do gets ascribed to that, and there’s no separating yourself from it,” he said. “And that’s what I realized: that everything I do, that’s going to continue to happen. I’m going to continue to deal with people that some of our members don’t want to deal with. I think they’re wrong.”

Having just learned of MacArthur’s resignation, Meadows said: “He’s a real gentleman, really productive and if that’s the best we can do, that’s sad.”

MacArthur told his colleagues in announcing his resignation that he ran for co-chair after listening for two years to some Tuesday Group members complain about their “lack of relevance and inability to get things done” and he thought he could help change that “both in perception and reality.”

“While some embraced my efforts as Co-Chairman, others have bristled,” he said. “Clearly, our group is divided. Many in the Tuesday Group are eager to live up to our ideal of being problem-solvers, while others seem unwilling to compromise. The recent healthcare debate was illustrative.”

MacArthur argued that Republicans hold the majority in large part because of their push to repeal the 2010 health care law, yet more than half of the “no” votes on the recent bill to do so came from Tuesday Group members.

Inaction on healthcare was a non-starter for me, and it should be for our entire party,” he said.

“During efforts to reform our healthcare system, I worked with many in the Tuesday Group towards a real solution that would protect the most vulnerable among us, while driving down healthcare costs. I am grateful to my colleagues across the political spectrum and have been encouraged by their support. That being said, it’s clear that some in the Tuesday Group have different objectives and a different sense of governing than I do.”

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