Former President Trump is creating new political headaches for Republicans locked in a highly competitive battle to win back the Senate majority by making extreme statements on health care, immigration and other issues unlikely to play well with swing voters in key states.
Trump shook up Republicans on Capitol Hill over the weekend by declaring that if elected president he would make another run at repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.
The comments posted on Trump’s media platform, Truth Social, caught GOP lawmakers off guard because they haven’t had any serious policy discussions recently about getting rid of the landmark health care law, and there’s no consensus within their party on how to replace it.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) admitted he doesn’t know what Trump is talking about.
“I’m for lowering costs and making our health care system more efficient, but I’m not sure — I’d want to know what the proposal is,” he said of Trump’s comments.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (La.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Health Committee, was similarly in the dark.
“It’s a narrowly divided Congress, it’s unlikely to happen,” he said, dismissing the prospect of a push to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Senate GOP leadership team, said there’s no consensus within his party on how to replace former President Obama’s landmark law.
“Whether we can build a political consensus for something else or not remains to be seen,” he said.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who was one of three GOP senators along with the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to vote to defeat a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017, said Tuesday she would not support repealing protections for people with preexisting conditions, a key reform of ObamaCare.
“One of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act that I’ve always strongly supported was the requirement that people with preexisting conditions be covered. So I would not be for repealing that provision,” she said, although she acknowledged “premiums have been very high under the Affordable Care Act.”
Trump’s call to revive the effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare follows sweeping pledges he’s made to end birthright citizenship for the children of immigrants living in the country illegally and to deputize the National Guard to implement mass deportations.
Trump drew criticism last month by claiming the flow of migrants across the southern border is “poisoning the blood of our country.”
His immigration adviser, Stephen Miller, told The New York Times this month that if elected, Trump would “unleash the vast arsenal of federal powers to implement the most spectacular migration crackdown.”
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who is trying to negotiate a deal with Democrats to stop the flood of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border, said while Trump’s rhetoric on immigration may play well with the GOP base, it’s likely to be a liability with moderate and independent voters in the general election.
“It’s maybe not words that work,” he said of calls for mass deportations.
“What we’re talking about is reasonable, sustainable policy to keep the country safe,” he added, contrasting the more measured approach he and other Senate Republicans are taking to raise the legal standards for asylum requests and to change humanitarian parole policies.
“To me, honestly, mass deportation is probably good primary rhetoric. Not good general election rhetoric,” he warned. “You have to be careful.”
Tillis urged Trump to run on his record as president and point out that encounters between border patrol and illegal migrants has more than doubled under Biden compared with Trump’s four years in office.
Cornyn, a leading Republican voice on immigration policy, said Senate Republicans won’t necessarily play along with Trump’s immigration vision if he returns to the Oval Office.
“I think one of the things that President Trump learned when he was president is while the president has a lot of power, he’s not the only game in town. Maybe what he’s talking about is more aspirational,” Cornyn said when asked about the prospect of mass deportations.
Earlier this year, Trump pressed House Republicans to impeach President Biden despite a lack of clear evidence of wrongdoing or improper conduct.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) on Monday voiced the widely shared GOP conventional wisdom when he warned against such an effort.
“To impeach Joe Biden in the House, knowing it’s not going to go to the Senate — there’s no point,” he warned on Real America’s Voice. “All it becomes is a political disaster.”
Trump has rattled GOP senators with other proposals, such as his call to pause U.S. assistance to Ukraine until federal agencies turn over to congressional investigators “every scrap” of evidence on what Trump insists are the “corrupt business dealings” of President Biden and his son, Hunter.
Senate Republicans led by Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) have championed U.S. support for the war in Ukraine as a top national security priority.
The party that doesn’t control the White House usually follows the lead of its presidential nominee on major policy questions in the run-up to an election. But GOP senators say that’s probably not happening next year if Trump wins the nomination.
“He throws so much spaghetti on the wall, I don’t think any of it really makes any difference,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). “If Republicans try to defend against all the things he says, that’s all they’d spend their time doing.”
Romney dismissed Trump’s call to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“I’d love to see his proposal. He served as president for four years, never put a bill forward, never put even an outline of a bill forward,” he said. “If it’s more than an empty promise, put some teeth into it and show us what you got.”
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