Jason Lewis is the outgoing, Minnesota Congressman who on Veterans Day blamed a recently deceased prisoner of war for costing him reelection and Republicans the House majority in the 2018 Midterm Elections. In his defense, Lewis had no control over the publication date of his op-ed after he submitted it to The Wall Street Journal. Lewis did, however, blame the late Republican Arizona Senator and Vietnam POW John McCain for his election loss and the losses of his fellow House Republicans. It just happened to be published on Veterans Day, which has been the focus of just about everyone on social media.

Most of the media, however, has resisted mentioning the date of publication, but haven’t bothered to check if there’s some truth to Lewis’s claim. McCain couldn’t possibly be entirely responsible for Republicans losing 39 House seats. No single moment, however momentous, decides an election let alone 39 elections. There are a myriad of reasons why people vote the way they do. Money is just one reason.

The biggest spender in House elections won just 89.8 percent of the 2018 House races—down from 95.4 percent in 2016. But the biggest reason House Republicans lost so much in the 2018 Midterm Elections might very well have been because of their support for the American Health Care Act (AHCA) and the failure of Senate Republicans to pass the legislation because of John McCain.

In his ill-timed op-ed, Lewis alleges that the Arizona Republican Senator’s decisive vote against Congressional Republicans’ “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, "prompted a 'green wave' of liberal special-interest money, which was used to propagate false claims that the House plan 'gutted coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.’”

Lewis might be absent-minded at best, insensitive at least, and downright disrespectful at worst, but his claim is not entirely wrong. He and fellow Republicans were wrong, however, to assume McCain would vote along party lines when it came to healthcare, even when faced with an opportunity to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Republicans Should have Seen McCain’s “No” Vote Coming

Like most Republicans, McCain campaigned for reelection in 2016 promising his Arizona constituents to repeal and replace Obamacare. And like most Republicans in 2016, he won reelection. But McCain was never like most Republicans, especially when it came to healthcare.

Healthcare has long been a concern of McCain’s. He was an early co-sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. In 1998, he introduced a bill to regulate the tobacco industry and increase taxes on cigarettes that failed due to opposition from his fellow Republicans. And it took a lot of convincing stories of personal struggle, but in 2001 he joined a bipartisan effort to pass a patients’ bill of rights despite being concerned about the right it gave patients to sue health care companies.

McCain then shocked his fellow party members by running for President on a healthcare platform in 2008. While his opponent adopted a healthcare approach implemented by Republican Governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts, McCain’s plan would have subjected health insurance premium contributions from employers to income tax. Tax credits would help taxpayers offset the costs of employer coverage or coverage purchased on the individual market, and any remaining funds could be deposited in a health savings account (HSA).

McCain also wanted to allow Americans to buy health insurance coverage across state lines, but he didn’t want government getting its hands on healthcare. He did, however, propose federal funding to help people who couldn’t get coverage through the individual market because of their health conditions, i.e. pre-existing conditions. So protecting affordable access to healthcare coverage for people with pre-existing conditions was important to McCain almost a decade before his decisive vote against the AHCA.

Yet Republicans and Democrats alike were shocked at McCain’s vote to kill his party’s baby that was going to show Republicans’ constituents they finally did what they had long promised: repeal and replace Obamacare. And that might have been enough to carry them to victory in 2018 because the adverse effects of their AHCA predicted by the Congressional Budget Office—including higher premiums resulting from 24 million more Americans going uninsured by 2026—wouldn’t take effect in time for American voters to reprimand them in the 2018 Midterm Elections.

The only problem with the Republicans’ plan was the free press, which informed constituents of the potentially devastating impact of the AHCA, especially for people suffering from pre-existing conditions. In turn, those constituents voiced their opposition to the bill and let their Congresspeople know how many votes they could expect to lose in their next election. Turns out once people got a taste of Obamacare and discovered it wasn’t just nasty, expensive health food but tasty, affordable health food, they started to like it. Why do you think Republican Congresspeople in 14 states continue to withhold Medicaid expansion from their constituents? They say they don’t want to take federal funding for healthcare out of principle, but what they really don’t want is their constituents discovering how much they could be saving on health insurance premiums.

McCain’s “Most Powerful Thumb in the Country”

On July 28, 2017, a week after learning of an “aggressive,” inoperable brain tumor, McCain, reminiscent of a Roman emperor deciding the fate of a wounded gladiator, killed Congressional Republicans’ last-ditch efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare with the "most powerful thumb in the country." It took two other votes from Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to kill the American Health Care Act. Any one of the three voting “yes” would have resulted in a tie broken by Vice President Mike Pence.

Andy Slavitt, a former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Barack Obama, called McCain’s “no” vote on the AHCA a “watershed moment in health-care policy” in an interview with the Arizona Republic. But it was also a watershed moment in political policy, too. It was both a reprimand of the Republican Party by a most-respected Republican, and a reminder that people, regardless of political affiliation, are going to do what they think is right. More so than anything, regardless of pre-existing conditions protections, McCain didn’t care for the Congressional Republicans’ process (or lack thereof) to repeal and replace Obamacare. Not allowing the legislation to go through committee and instead forcing it through Congress rubbed the old school Republican the wrong way.

Republican Representative Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress and still the only woman elected to Congress from Montana, broke with her party and all of Congress when she voted against declaring war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. She was joined by a bipartisan group of 49 House members and six Senators voting against war with Germany 24 years earlier. McCain’s “most powerful thumb in the country” moment was reminiscent of Rankin and is McCain’s most legendary moment. It's for what he'll be most remembered.

There’s no denying McCain’s momentous “no” vote motivated an already energized Democratic Party. Whether it resulted in a “green wave” of donations from those with liberal special interests is debatable. Democratic House candidates received 50 percent more in campaign contributions than Republican House candidates in 2018, but that was paced by individual donations, not special interests represented by Political Action Committees (PACs). Democrats raised twice as much from individuals as Republicans to make up for a $46-million deficit in PAC contributions.

Whether McCain’s momentous vote was responsible for specific donations is impossible to determine, but Democrats did receive 54.7 percent of the $226,586,167 health-related campaign contributions, which was fifth most amongst business sectors in contributions made to 2018 campaigns. That’s actually down from health sector spending on the 2016 election, which saw health as the sixth-highest sector represented by campaign contributions, but nearly 60 percent more than what the health sector spent on the 2014 Midterm Elections.

So McCain’s vote against the AHCA might have been responsible for increased election spending on Democrats from the health sector, but it was absolutely responsible for robbing House Republicans of the ability to run for reelection advertising the fulfillment of their promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. That alone could have been enough to sway the 2018 House Midterm Elections toward Democrats, if they weren’t already swinging that way.

Almost five months before Democrats flipped their first Congressional seat—getting an upset win from Doug Jones over Republican Roy Moore in Alabama’s special election for Senator on Dec. 12, 2017—McCain gave Democrats their first ray of hope since being robbed of the White House by Russian election meddlers assisted, perhaps, by Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign. Whether Trump acted as an accomplice in the confirmed election interference by the Russians could be revealed by Special Investigator Robert Mueller any day now that Trump has reportedly responded in writing to Mueller’s questions.

Both Trump and Pence failed to convince McCain to support the AHCA, with Trump even assuring McCain the bill wouldn’t become law. Trump wasn’t likely considering a “no” vote from another Republican Senator, although that might be exactly what he wanted McCain to think. It’s more likely Trump was told a key provision of the bill would be found unconstitutional.

In his op-ed, Lewis alleges Democrats’ claims that the AHCA “gutted coverage for people with pre-existing conditions” were false. But like Lewis’s op-ed rejecting responsibility for his and House Republicans’ election losses, Democrats’ claims weren’t entirely false. PolitiFact awarded “Half True” ratings to ads and statements from Democrats on healthcare in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Florida, Virginia and California. Why?

The MacArthur-Meadows Amendment

The MacArthur-Meadows Amendment to the AHCA was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on April 13, 2017. It was meant to coerce the votes House Republicans needed from the Rightest-leaning, three-dozen-or-so members of the House Freedom Caucus in order to pass the AHCA legislation onto the Senate. The amendment introduced by Republicans Tom MacArthur, a former insurance executive and now outgoing member of Congress, and recently reelected Mark Meadows of North Carolina, chair of the House Freedom Caucus, would have effectively gutted coverage for some people with pre-existing conditions.

People suffering from pre-existing conditions who didn’t maintain continuous health insurance coverage for all but 63 days of the prior 12 months would be forced to pay health insurance premiums based on their medical history, which would no doubt be higher than premiums currently available to them. While not every person with a pre-existing condition would be directly affected, nearly a third of people with pre-existing conditions experience a gap in coverage over a two-year period due to job changes, other life transitions, or periods of financial difficulty, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Since price most dictates what Americans’ healthcare coverage actually covers, Republicans effectively “gutted coverage for people with pre-existing conditions” by allowing health insurance companies to pick and choose what healthcare services are covered and at what price for people with pre-existing conditions failing to maintain continuous coverage. That’s why PolitiFact awarded “Half True” ratings to all those ads run by or for Democrats.

So while Lewis isn’t entirely wrong about increased campaign contributions being made to Democratic House candidates in 2018, he is wrong in calling it “liberal special-interest money,” as individual donations were the source of Democrats’ “green wave” of contributions, not PACs representing special interests. Whether that increase in Democratic contributions was a result of McCain’s vote against the AHCA is debatable and impossible to determine. And while Lewis claims that money was used to “propagate false claims that the House plan 'gutted coverage for people with pre-existing conditions,’” those claims made by and in behalf of Democrats were at least partially true, making Lewis mostly wrong, but not entirely wrong.

"Disapprove of the president's style if you like, but don't sacrifice sound policy to pettiness," Lewis wrote to close his op-ed, which would have been fitting had the AHCA actually been sound policy. The MacArthur-Meadows Amendment sacrificed any semblance of soundness the AHCA had, so if Lewis wants to blame someone for Republicans losing the House, he might start with the members of the House Freedom Caucus instead of attacking a dead POW of the Vietnam War who can’t defend himself.


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Update: On Monday, Republican Representative of Michigan’s 11th District, Dave Trott, announced he will not pursue reelection in 2018, becoming the third Republican House member to retire in the last week and fourth overall. Michigan’s 11th went to Donald Trump by 4.5 points in 2016, but 270ToWin is calling it a tossup in 2018.


 

There are now three open House seats up for grabs in districts favorable for Democrats after two, seven-term Republican Representatives announced their retirements in back-to-back days this week.

Charlie Dent, the moderate Republican Representative of Pennsylvania’s 15th District since 2005, announced that he would not seek an eighth term in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, saying in an interview with the Washington Post that it’s become too difficult to work with members of his own party.

“Accomplishing the most basic fundamental tasks of governance is becoming far too difficult. It shouldn’t be, but that’s reality,” he said.

Dent has been one of the most outspoken Republicans when it comes to Donald Trump. He told Trump to drop out of the 2016 Presidential Election after the “grab them by the pussy” video surfaced. He didn’t vote for Trump, casting a vote for independent Evan McMullin instead. And he’s spoken out against Trump’s travel ban, his firing of James Comey and Trump’s comments after white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville, killing a counter-protesting, white woman. Two Virginia State Troopers also died in a helicopter crash.

Dent is co-chairman of the Tuesday Group, a dwindling group of a few dozen moderate Republicans that focuses on governing through sensible legislation rather than upholding conservative ideals. But given the growth of Far Right Conservatives via the Tea Party movement and culminating in the House Freedom Caucus, moderate Republicans are a retiring breed.

On Wednesday, moderate Republican Representative of Washington’s 8th District, Dave Reichert, announced he won’t pursue an eighth term either. Like Dent, Reichert has been critical of Trump, and like Dent’s, Reichert’s House district could flip to the Democrats. In fact, it’s more likely to flip than Dent’s 15th District.

Democrats are expected to pick up a seat in Florida, too, as Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was the first Republican Representative to announce her retirement back in April after 35 years in office. The first Cuban-American elected to Congress leaves a very favorable seat for Democrats in the recently redrawn 27th District of Florida. Hillary Clinton carried the district by 20 points over Donald Trump, and 270ToWin has predicted a win for the Democrats.

Roll Call projects both Florida’s 27th and Washington’s 8th districts will turn over to Democrats. But House Republicans are likely to lose more than just two seats due to retiring Republicans. History shows midterm elections aren’t friendly to the party of the President, and results are influenced by the President’s approval rating. Trump’s 36 percent approval rating is the worst of any President this far into his first term.

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At some point Congressional Democrats have to start wondering if things could have turned out any better for them had they won the 2016 Presidential Election. I’ve already said once that it couldn’t be worse for Republicans, and except for the hundreds of judges Donald Trump is appointing all over the country, things are really going Democrats’ way. Congressional Democrats will reap the benefits of Trump’s record low approval rating and compulsive terrorizing of his own party members come the 2018 midterm elections.

When Trump said he would “drain the swamp,” I didn’t think he was talking about members of his own party. If that was his goal, it’s the only thing he’s done really well. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s approval rating in Kentucky is 18 percent. He won’t be back, but a Democrat won’t take his seat either. That’s okay as long as Democrats preserve their seats most likely to switch parties (there are eight) and pick up at least three seats. The seats most likely to be within reach are in Nevada, Arizona or Texas.

The Democrats are going to gain seats in the House. Congressional minorities pick up seats when their opposition occupies the White House. 270ToWin has 14 seats as tossups, and every tossup Democrats win after the first will be a House seat gained.

While Democrats winning the 24 seats to take a House majority is a longshot, FiveThirtyEight says House Democrats have a “historically strong position.” Despite Republicans holding the incumbency advantage by holding more House seats, FiveThirtyEight pits Democrats’ chance at taking back the House majority at 50/50.

The prediction is based on the House generic ballot, where voters are asked for which party they’d vote in a House election. Democrats lead that generic ballot by seven percentage points. In 2008, when they led the generic ballot by nine points, Democrats picked up 23 House seats. When they led by 11.5 points in 2006, Democrats picked up 30 House seats.

So House Democrats have to hope Trump’s approval rating keeps decreasing, which would result in an increased margin on the generic ballot and more Democratic Representatives elected in 2018. And it’s not crazy to think Trump’s approval rating could reach the record low of 22 percent set by Harry Truman before the 2018 midterm elections.

Only George W. Bush managed to raise his net approval rating going into his first midterm election, and it took 9/11 for that to happen. The other eight newly elected Presidents of the Presidential approval rating era lost at least 17 points before their first midterm elections. So barring a terrorist attack unifying the country behind a war, Trump’s approval rating will likely continue it’s downward trend.

Trump has been shedding .038 percentage points per day since starting his Presidency with a record low 45 percent approval rating. As of this writing, there are 437 days until the 2018 midterm elections. At Trump’s current rate, his approval rating would be at least 16 points lower than his current 37 percent approval rating, setting a new record low at 21 percent.

Even with his current approval rating, Trump would hold the record low for a net approval rating of nearly -20 percent (37.1 approval rating minus 56.9 disapproval rating). The three Presidents who went into their first midterm elections with disapproval ratings at least as high as their approval ratings ended up losing the most House seats, but none of them even touch the travesty that is Trump’s net approval rating.

Barack Obama’s House Democrats lost 63 seats when his net approval rating was just -2 percent. Bill Clinton’s House Democrats lost 54 seats when Bill Clinton’s net approval rating was zero. Ronald Reagan’s House Republicans lost 27 seats when his net approval rating was -4 percent.

So while there isn’t a direct correlation between negative net approval ratings of the President and the number of House seats lost, negative net approval ratings certainly result in House seats lost. And with 60 to 80 Republican-held House seats that could be competitive in 2018, and 209 Democratic challengers for House seats raising at least $5,000 by June 30 this year compared to the 28 Republicans who did so, Democrats are in position to surprise us like Trump did in 2016. The only thing that might stop them, according to history, is a terrorist attack.

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