Six Senate Republicans, including five facing tight reelection races this fall, voted with Democrats on Thursday on a procedural vote on legislation to block the Trump administration from intervening in a lawsuit to overturn the 2010 health care law.
Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona and Dan Sullivan of Alaska voted to end debate on proceeding to a bill that would block the Department of Justice from advocating that a court should overturn the health care law, including in a high-profile challenge to the law that the Supreme Court is set to hear on Nov. 10.
Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, who is not on the ballot this year, also voted with Democrats to advance to the bill.
The cloture vote on proceeding to the measure was set up by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer in an unusual move to force Republicans to vote on an issue Democrats consider politically difficult for them. It fell short by a vote of 51-43 — 60 votes were required.
Collins previously criticized the administration for supporting the lawsuit. Gardner released an ad last month affirming his support for coverage of preexisting health conditions. Most Republicans, except for Collins and Murkowski, have voted in the past few years to weaken preexisting conditions protections in efforts to overhaul the 2010 law.
The vote capped off two days of both parties trading votes on bills related to coverage for preexisting conditions, which members of both parties say they support and is a key issue for voters. The Senate on Wednesday voted, 47-47, not to table a Republican proposal on preexisting conditions by North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis that mirrors his bill on the issue.
While the Democratic bill would have banned the Justice Department from intervening in the lawsuit, now known as Texas v. California, it would not have ended the legal challenge altogether. The lawsuit was first brought by a group of Republican state attorneys general.
A group of Democratic state officials also intervened, along with the Democratic-led House, to defend the law when the Trump administration said it would side with Republicans seeking to kill the health care law.
The measure Tillis offered Wednesday would reaffirm the 2010 law’s existing guarantee that people cannot be denied coverage or charged more for it based on health status. While Republicans say the proposal is not a comprehensive alternative to the health care law and is meant to affirm those protections if the Supreme Court does overturn the law, Democrats criticized it for not going far enough, since it would not extend to other parts of the 2010 law that provide coverage to people with medical needs.
Tillis, who is also in a tough race, said in a statement Wednesday that Democrats were choosing to make preexisting conditions a wedge issue on the campaign trail. “Their plan couldn’t be clearer: they would rather have a political issue to scare Americans about Judge Barrett’s nomination rather than solve the problem,” he said, referring to Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination. “That’s wrong.”
Schumer’s move to force a vote on the measure was atypical, since the majority party typically controls floor proceedings. He told reporters on a Thursday press call that the vote was an opportunity for Republicans “to set the record straight” with a referendum on the lawsuit.
The vote comes as Democrats are trying to focus on the lawsuit challenging the health care law, as they try to keep the issue at the forefront of the political debate after Tuesday night’s unwieldy presidential debate.
Schumer said at a news conference after the vote that he did not think Thursday’s vote would reverse those prior votes.
“When you flip your vote a few weeks before the election, the American people see right through it,” the New York Democrat said. “They can’t hide from all their votes to repeal the [health care law], and this new vote only shows their hypocrisy a few weeks before the election.”