BUCKNER, Kentucky — One of the House Republican rebels, Kentucky Rep. Tom Massie, wasn’t just “no” on the GOP health care bill to replace Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Massie was “hell no.”
That won over Mary Broecker, president of the Oldham County Republican Women’s Club and a strong proponent of a full-blown repeal of the 2010 law.
“When he came out against this bill, I thought, ‘I trust him so this must be the right way,'” the 76-year-old retired teacher said of Massie this week as she sat at a coffee shop near her LaGrange home.
Defying President Donald Trump on the seven-year Republican Party promise to repeal and replace “Obamacare” sounds like political suicide, especially in the congressional districts Trump won handily. Yet in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Iowa in the bitter aftermath of the GOP’s epic failure, Republicans who blocked the legislation have won praise from constituents for stopping what many saw as a flawed plan, either in the legislation’s substance or strategy.
Trump initially faulted Democrats for rejecting the bill, but on several occasions since then, including Thursday morning, he lashed out at the hardline conservatives of the House Freedom Caucus.
“The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!” Trump tweeted.
Conservatives opposed the bill because it didn’t go far enough in getting the government out of health care while moderates worried that tens of millions of Americans might be left without insurance. Trump’s famed deal-making and power of persuasion faltered with his own party, a remarkable turn at a time when the GOP controls the White House, Senate and House.
Nationwide, an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released Wednesday found that 62 percent disapprove of the way Trump is handling health care, his worst rating among seven issues the poll tested, including the economy, foreign policy and immigration.
The same poll found negative views of five of the six changes Republicans envisioned for the bill, including allowing insurers to charge older customers higher premiums than is now allowed, reduced funds for Medicaid and denying federal dollars to Planned Parenthood.
Yet the same voters who backed their local lawmaker for opposing the bill showed patience with Trump.
“I think he’s going to be a great president,” Broecker said. “I think he’ll figure it out.”
In the districts of the bill’s foes, Republican voters and activists faulted Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Some argue he was too willing to accept pieces of “Obamacare.”
“We’ve been hearing repeal-and-replace for seven years and finally we get control, and they say, let’s just kind of fix it,” said 31-year-old Justin Wasson of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who runs a small business. “We gave them everything. Now, I want this thing gutted.”
Shea Cox, a 21-year-old computer science major from Shelbyville, Tennessee, said the bill failed because Ryan rushed what Cox called a “complete hack job” that “looked almost exactly like “Obamacare” with a couple of things taken out.” That’s why he was happy to see Tennessee Rep. Scott DesJarlais oppose it.
With midterm elections coming next year, Wasson said he planned to vote again for his congressman, Rep. Rod Blum of Dubuque — a sentiment echoed by other voters whose representatives opposed the bill.
Gary French, a minister from Buckner in Massie’s district, said it was a “piece-meal” bill and his representative was right in opposing it. “The issue’s not dead, they’ll return to it. Absolutely. I think they’re going to have to do what the constituents want,” he said.
Kelly Stanger of Lowell, Michigan, argued that conservatives were prevented from contributing to the bill, and said she’d vote again for Rep. Justin Amash who opposed it.
“He has no problem taking heat,” the 50-year-old cafe waitress said. “I don’t think just because you belong to a party that you have to agree.”
She said she voted for Trump because “there needed to be change,” adding, “It’s not going to be easy.”
The failure of the health bill in the House may have spared a couple GOP senators a tough vote as the legislation grew increasingly unpopular with the public. The two most vulnerable GOP senators in next year’s midterms, Dean Heller of Nevada and Jeff Flake of Arizona, both represent states with large populations of older voters who would have been disproportionately impacted by higher premiums under the bill.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, far from dwelling on the bill’s defeat or weighing plans to revive it, quickly moved on to other issues. The House bill had already divided GOP senators and would have required major changes to pass.
A leading opponent was the head of the Freedom Caucus — Rep. Mark Meadows. In Meadows’ North Carolina district, 77-year-old Hendersonville retiree Don Lee said he voted for Trump to “bring Republicans together,” but added that the president “needed to take some more time with this bill and try to find some unity.”
House members, not Trump, need to prove commitment to the issue, said Cedar Rapids Republican Brett Mason, who wishes Blum would have backed the bill.
“The president went up to Capitol Hill on this,” the 58-year-old information technology strategist said. “The onus is now on them to frame up a bill and put it on his desk.”
Beaumont reported from Des Moines, Iowa. AP reporters Sheila Burke in Shelbyville, Tennessee, Chris Ehrmann in Ionia, Michigan, Jeffrey Collins in Hendersonville, North Carolina, and Erica Werner in Washington contributed to this report.