TOPICS > Politics

8 million health care sign-ups take sting out of GOP attacks

BY Domenico Montanaro, Simone Pathe and Rachel Wellford  April 18, 2014 at 9:14 AM EDT
A newly insured patient through the Affordable Care Act receives a checkup April 15 in Hollywood, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A newly insured patient through the Affordable Care Act receives a checkup April 15 in Hollywood, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • 8 million health care sign-ups mean good news for Democrats
  • Reality check: Top seven key Senate races are in very red states
  • But does GOP map expansion recede?
  • Hillary Clinton’s numbers back to politics as usual

Health care: President Barack Obama took to the White House briefing room Thursday to announce that eight million people had signed up for insurance through federal and state exchanges under the health care law. He said 35 percent of the enrollees were under 35 years of age. (A caveat here: That number includes children who would be covered by the plans. In fact, just 28 percent of enrollees were between 18 and 34. The percentage is key to controlling costs and almost more important than the overall number of signups.) Regardless, the health care news is politically significant for the White House and Democrats. It takes some of the sting out of conservatives’ withering attacks on the law and highlights the potential danger of Republicans’ singular messaging focus against “Obamacare.” “If Republicans want to attack a law that’s working, that’s their business,” Obama touted Thursday. But his message was less to Republicans, and more to skittish Democrats: “I think Democrats should forcefully defend and be proud. … I do not think we should apologize for it. We should not be defensive about it. I think it is a strong, good, right story to tell.”

How this might change the playing field: Though Republicans hold the upper hand in the race for control of the Senate, Democrats are still within striking distance in key races, and Thursday’s announcement is welcome news for them. That said, vulnerable Democrats have a reason to be skittish. It’s important to remember that many of the key Senate races this year are taking place in states favorable to Republicans, where Mitt Romney won by large margins, and where the president and the health care law are deeply unpopular. But, IF the health care law bad news is over, it could perhaps mean the playing field shrinks a bit again in the states where Republicans have expanded — places Obama won in 2012. The field widened to 12 states — with the prospect of going up to 14, including Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, Virginia and potentially Oregon and Minnesota. But does the wave recede a bit now to the original seven GOP targets (plus a couple others): South Dakota, Montana, West Virginia, Arkansas, Alaska, North Carolina and Louisiana? That doesn’t mean Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and New Hampshire are off the table — or even that Republicans can’t win there. By no means. Of course they can. But Democrats have to be feeling a little bit better about their chances. It’s something to watch in the polls in coming months.

key-races-field

Could the law ever become popular? To a bigger point President Obama addressed yesterday, he was asked essentially whether the law could ever become popular. His answer: “My view is that the longer we see the law benefiting millions of people, the longer we see accusations that the law is hurting millions of people being completely debunked, and the more the average American that has health insurance sees it’s not affecting them in a negative way, then it becomes less of a political football.” Democrats point to the fact that social-welfare programs like Medicare didn’t start out popular but have later become untouchable. That’s possible, but it’s still VERY early to say. It’s highly unlikely the partisanship in the numbers on the law budge until Obama leaves office. Asked whether the law will ever move past the current partisanship, Obama said, “That’s going to take more time.” As we’ve written previously, it’s probably unlikely to change much until there’s a Republican PRESIDENT who embraces the law and tries to “fix” it.

2016: Clinton’s numbers back to politics as usual: Hillary Clinton gets just a 49 to 45 percent favorable rating in a Fox News poll. (It is traditionally a good poll.) That’s a stark dropoff from her numbers when serving as secretary of state, but the more polarized view is to be expected, as Clinton is seen increasingly as the likely Democratic nominee. It’s why it has always been in her interest to NOT appear political for as long as possible before 2016. The poll also finds that Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Chris Christie’s favorable ratings are all underwater. In fact, Paul is the only one who is a net-positive with independents. In head-to-head matchups, Clinton beats Christie 50 to 42 percent, Bush and Paul 51 to 42 percent.

Daily Presidential Trivia:
On this day in 1994, former President Richard Nixon suffered a stroke and died four days later. He is buried beside his wife, Pat, in California. How did the two meet? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer @NewsHour, @rachelwellford, @DomenicoPBS, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to former NewsHour producer Katelyn Polantz ‏(@kpolantz) for getting yesterday’s answer- CIA Director Allen Dulles. An honorable mention to Colter Diehl (@colterdiehl), who came in a close second.

LINE ITEMS

  • Obama’s Day: The president meets with the head of the American Legion and then awards the 2013 Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy to the Naval Academy Football team.
  • During a nearly seven-hour negotiation, Secretary of State John Kerry, joined by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton and the Ukrainian foreign ministry worked out a deal to help alleviate the political unrest and violence in Ukraine.
  • Cliven Bundy, a rancher in Nevada who has refused to pay grazing fees for the past 20 years, was recently joined by armed supporters in a face-off against the Bureau of Land Management. On Thursday, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, spoke out against the group, calling them “domestic terrorists.”
  • Outside political groups are increasingly using positive spots, having watched Mitt Romney fail to deliver an alternative message other than a barrage of negative ads in 2012. Of Americans for Prosperity’s ads this year, 16 percent have been positive compared to zero in 2012.
  • Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden will run for governor instead of seeking a third term as attorney general.
  • A spokesperson for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says she will not run for Senate. Sebelius announced her resignation last week after heading the turbulent health care rollout.
  • Republicans have taken a new shot at campaign outreach for the primaries: online gun sweepstakes.
  • A new ad from North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis’ Senate campaign takes on Majority Leader Harry Reid, accusing the senator of trying to “fool Republicans.”
  • In a letter thanking Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee for their support on extending unemployment insurance, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called House Republicans’ failure to cooperate “callous, shortsighted and immoral”.
  • The League of Conservation Voters launched a $1 million ad campaign against Colorado GOP Rep. Cory Gardner as part of their Dirty Dozen Senate program.
  • Defending Main Street, a Super PAC that defends GOP incumbents, is up with an ad attacking the Club for Growth in Idaho by tying Club for Growth President Chris Chocola to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
  • The DCCC is prioritizing money for the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents and most promising challengers, causing some challengers to worry they’ll have to fend for themselves.
  • President Obama and Eric Cantor had very different takes on a phone call the president made to him. Cantor: “The president called me hours after he issued a partisan statement which attacked me and my fellow House Republicans and which indicated no sincere desire to work together.” Obama: “So, it was a pretty friendly conversation.” Obama said he called to wish Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in Congress, a good Passover. Cantor focused on immigration. The president acknowledged they did talk about immigration and what could be done in the House.
  • Mitt Romney’s long winter is over, Robert Costa and Philip Rucker write. Embracing his role as party elder, Romney is “heartened” the party hasn’t ignored him, and he’s using his sway to fundraise and campaign for fiscal conservatives.
  • Mr. Obama’s top campaign advisers will be helping opposing candidates in Britain’s general elections next year: Jim Messina for Prime Minister David Cameron and the ruling Conservative Party, and David Axelrod for Labor leader Ed Miliband.
  • The New York Times’ David Brooks swats at the anti-Common Core crowd, saying their opposition, led by talk radio conservatives, means “The circus has come to town.” You can catch more from Brooks tonight on the NewsHour when he joins Mark Shields and Judy Woodruff.
  • Hillary Clinton’s new book will be called “Hard Choices.”
  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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