WASHINGTON ― Last month’s epic failure to deliver on their 7-year-old promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act is causing angst among GOP candidates up and down the ticket ahead of next year’s congressional midterm election.
While moderate Republicans like Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) are receiving warm adulation from constituents for opposing a bill that would have repealed Obamacare, other GOP lawmakers are facing attacks from their right flank over their handling of the health care debate.
Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) drew a primary challenge this week from businessman Danny Tarkanian, a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, who blasted the senator for failing to support Trump during last year’s presidential campaign and for “obstructing” his agenda in Washington, D.C.
“That grandstand press conference he had derailed any momentum to get the health care bill repealed,” Tarkanian said Tuesday, referring to a dramatic press conference Heller held alongside Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) in which both men voiced their opposition to the initial Senate bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Tarkanian, the son of the late college basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, has mounted several failed political campaigns in Nevada. Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), who is also running for Heller’s seat, defeated Tarkanian last year.
Heller has drawn the ire of both liberals and conservatives over his shifting stance on health care. In June, after a Trump-aligned super-PAC released ads slamming the senator, Heller reversed course and voted in favor of a “skinny” version of the bill that would have dismantled key parts of Obamacare.
A poll that a Democratic firm conducted last week found only 22 percent of Nevada voters approved of Heller’s job performance.
The inability to repeal Obamacare has also roiled the race for an Alabama Senate seat made vacant by Trump’s appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General earlier this year.
Ousted Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who is running in the Republican primary, released a television ad on Tuesday defending himself against attacks made by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his allies in Washington, D.C.
“They lied about repealing Obamacare. Now Mitch McConnell’s D.C slime machine is spending millions spreading lies about Roy Moore,” the narrator in the ad said.
Moore has led in recent polls of the race. The social conservative provocateur is hoping to knock out Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), another candidate in the race, and qualify for a run-off between himself and of Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.), who was appointed by former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) to temporarily fill the seat.
Republican lawmakers in the House are facing similar heat over their votes on the repeal of Obamacare. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), viewed as one of the most vulnerable GOP lawmakers in the House, drew a primary challenge this week from former U.S. Air Force combat pilot Shak Hill.
“I agree with the president on his conservative initiatives, and Barbara has been a major obstacle,” Hill said. “It’s time to repeal and replace Barbara.”
Democrats, who view Comstock as one of their top targets on the path to retaking the majority in 2018, lampooned their predicament.
“The cliché ‘stuck between a rock and a hard place’ has never been more appropriate as House Republicans struggle to hang onto their majority,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Tyler Law.
The White House has also expressed qualms about the Obamacare debacle, despite intentions about moving on to tax reform. After McConnell criticized Trump for having “excessive expectations” about the legislative process, White House social media director Dan Scavino returned fire on Twitter.
Trump also attacked McConnell in a tweet Wednesday for saying the president had set his sights too high.
This article has been updated with Trump’s tweet about McConnell.