During a week most Republican senators spent in the political equivalent of the witness protection program, Sen. Ted Cruz willingly stood trial before his constituents all across this sprawling state over his push to repeal much of the Affordable Care Act.
He debated a self-described “dirty liberal progressive.” He met a psychologist who told him that he and his colleagues were “scaring the living daylights” out of her. He encountered protesters in a border town, a conservative Dallas suburb and this liberal stronghold.
Some who attended his events took the opposite view – that not shredding the law known as Obamacare would be the real misdeed. But Cruz’s main offense, in the view of the most vocal and most frustrated attendees, has been to participate in the GOP effort to undo and replace key parts of the ACA – which will resume when lawmakers return to Washington, D.C., on Monday.
Cruz, who appeared in several Sunday news show interviews, is suddenly at the center of a last-gasp attempt to work out differences among GOP senators and pass a bill by the end of July – a goal that Sen John McCain, R-Ariz., said on CBS’ “Face The Nation” is “probably going to be dead.”
The Texas Republican is pushing a controversial amendment that would prompt a deeper rollback of the ACA. The measure could bring reluctant conservatives on board, but it also threatens to alienate key GOP moderates.
“I think really the consumer freedom option is the key to bringing Republicans together and getting this repeal passed,” Cruz said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” His proposal would let insurers sell narrower plans that don’t comply with ACA coverage requirements – to cover maternity or dental or preventive care, for instance – so long as they also offer even one plan that does.
“I think that reopens an issue that I can’t support, that it would make it too difficult for people with preexisting conditions to get coverage,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., told the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
Cruz is grappling with a state that, much like the rest of the country, has been deeply divided and firmly gripped by the months-long GOP effort to fulfill its signature campaign promise. Virtually everywhere he traveled over the July Fourth recess, no matter where the conversation started, it inevitably veered to health care. That may help explain why so many of his colleagues kept much lower profiles.
But Cruz, who built a national reputation on strident conservatism and has fiercely criticized the ACA for years, seemed to relish debating health care with vocal liberal critics. In a red state where he holds little crossover appeal, Cruz sees his best path to a second term, which he will seek next year, in rallying his conservative base to turn out for him. Even as he antagonizes a growing number of voters concerned about the fate of the ACA, doing his part to push for a full or even partial repeal is one key way his allies believe he can make that happen.
Whether such legislation can pass is increasingly uncertain – to both Cruz and Senate GOP leadership. “I believe we can get to yes,” said Cruz last week. “I don’t know if we will.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Sean Sullivan