Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who leads his party’s Senate campaign arm, says Republicans are creating a tough political environment in next year’s midterm elections for themselves by taking up President Donald Trump’s proposals.
The Maryland lawmaker pointed specifically to the GOP health care plan, backed by Trump, and his administration’s budget blueprint, both of which Van Hollen and other Democrats say disproportionately disadvantage working-class and poor voters who supported the president in 2016, and benefit wealthier Americans.
“It is already, I think, having a political impact in the sense that people are figuring out what’s in [the health care bill] and they don’t like it,” Van Hollen, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Friday morning at a Center for American Progress Action Fund event in Washington.
House leaders later pulled the health care bill from a scheduled vote Friday afternoon at Trump’s request, a big setback for the GOP in its quest to overturn the 2010 health care law.
For congressional Democrats, the ultimate failure of the GOP bill on Friday was lauded as a victory. Lawmakers in the cloakroom off the House floor were heard cheering when news broke that Republicans were pulling the bill.
But with Republicans saying they will eventually have to revisit health care, some Democrats are still planning to tie Republicans to the failed plan.
“This health care plan is the platform of the entire Republican Party and voters will hold every Republican Senate candidate accountable for it,” DSCC spokesman David Bergstein said in a statement after the bill was pulled.
Earlier in the day, Van Hollen, who was the House Budget Committee’s top Democrat during his last six years in the chamber, said the bill was “part of a larger atmosphere, combined with the budget, a sense of betrayal that I think is making it difficult politically for a lot Republicans in many states.”
Some of Trump’s supporters, he explained, expected the president to be a champion of working-class people.
“They didn’t see the disclaimer on the back of those hats that said ‘Make America Great Again,’ that said, ‘For Millionaires and Billionaires,’” Van Hollen quipped.
As DSCC chairman, Van Hollen will be helping Senate Democrats hone their message as they head into next year’s elections.
The committee labeled the GOP health care plan “Wealthcare” to call attention to the economic divide between those who would benefit from and those who’d be hurt by the plan. On Tuesday, the group launched its first television ad of the cycle highlighting the cost to middle-class families if the health care bill became law. It also launched a new website detailing the bill’s effect on 14 key states.
Ten Senate Democrats will be running in states that Trump won last fall: Republican-friendly ones such as Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia and swing states Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Van Hollen said reaching those Trump supporters, and explaining that the president’s proposals do not help them, is key.
Top Democrats have repeatedly noted that Trump voters, particularly those who live in rural areas and have lower incomes, would be hurt by the GOP’s health care proposal.
“In some areas, 57 percent of the people who voted for Trump are on the Affordable Care Act,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said at a Thursday press conference. “That will be taken away from them, those red areas. That money will probably go to blue areas. Interesting, isn’t it? All terrible.”
At Friday’s Center for American Progress event, Van Hollen presented slides to demonstrate how health care costs would increase, particularly for older Americans, and Medicaid programs would be cut by the GOP bill.
“The good news is people are catching on,” Van Hollen said. He pointed to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday that showed that 17 percent of respondents supported the GOP health care plan, while 56 percent disapproved. Quinnipiac surveyed 1,056 Americans nationwide from March 16-21 by landline and cell phones. The poll had a 3 point margin of error.
The GOP health care plan also did not have support from even a majority of Republicans surveyed. Forty-one percent approved of the bill, 24 percent disapproved, and 35 percent did not know or did not answer.
In the poll, 12 percent of those surveyed thought the GOP plan would have a positive impact on their health care. Thirty percent believed there would be a negative effect and 50 percent thought there would be no impact.
The majority of respondents in both parties also opposed decreased funding for Medicaid.
Illustrating the Republicans’ challenge, Van Hollen’s counterpart, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner, signaled his reservations about the House GOP plan earlier this month.
After the House GOP bill was unveiled, the Colorado lawmaker and fellow GOP Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, saying, “While we support efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and make structural reforms to the Medicaid program, we are concerned that the February 10 draft proposal from the House of Representatives does not provide stability and certainty for individuals and families in Medicaid expansion programs or the necessary flexibility for states.”
Van Hollen intends to keep the pressure on. But, if something similar to the health care measure does become law, he said Republicans running for re-election next year will be held accountable for their votes.
The Maryland Democrat also said the Trump administration’s budget released earlier this month hits the rural, working-class voters who helped propel Trump to the White House.
He pointed to cuts to the economic development organizations, the Agriculture Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and medical research as a few examples of how the budget would harm Americans.
“People are catching on,” Van Hollen said. “We just need to make sure they get the truth and the information so they can see what a bait-and-switch we have here.”