The surprisingly thin margin by which the House passed the first step in repealing Obamacare shows there are many Republicans on Capitol Hill who did not learn the lessons of the 2016 election. The House vote was 217-213, with 23 Republicans joining 193 Democrats in voting “no” — to keep Obamacare alive.
These Republicans are often described as “moderates,” but in truth they are usually just ambitious politicians hoping to protect their jobs. How else could you explain why so many Republicans who had promised to repeal Obamacare over the course of the last seven years did not vote to do so? Nervous Republicans are usually afraid of the spin from the Democrats and their media allies. But why?
“There is no way Republicans are going to be punished for doing what they said they were going to do,” said Alex Conant, a GOP consultant for Marco Rubio, speaking on Fox News on Friday.
Many of these squishy Capitol Hill Republicans pose a threat to other key aspects of President Donald Trump’s agenda. The building of a border wall, reform to refugee and immigration programs, and tax reform could all be watered down or blocked if enough Republicans go weak-kneed.
Here are three GOP congressional moderates that stand out:
Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas)
Hurd is trying to lead the pack of Republicans opposed to Trump’s agenda. Democrats and media are beating a path to his door to assist him.
On Friday, Politico Magazine wrote a long piece on Hurd, portraying him as “the future of the GOP.” The one problem? He may not win his next election. Hurd represents the one district in Texas, out of 36, that is competitive between the two parties. And it voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The district, in southwest Texas, is rural and includes 820 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. Hurd doesn’t support Trump’s border wall, however, even though scores of illegal aliens pour across this very border every month.
Hurd, like most self-styled moderates hoping to win re-election, likes to nuzzle with the Democrats. Hurd and Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) famously took a bipartisan road trip back to Washington in mid-March. Not long after the trip, O’Rourke said he would run against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Hurd let himself get used by Democrats — and it likely won’t be the last time.
Yet it was Hurd’s unflinching refusal to vote for repeal that will perhaps deflate his hopes for re-election. It’s hard to win re-election in a swing year if your base abandons you; turnout in the midterms is key.
Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.)
Lance losing in 2018 wouldn’t be a great loss for the GOP. Lance has a dismal 64 rating from the American Conservative Union (ACU), and only a 68 (out of a possible 100) lifetime rating — not terrible for a Northeastern Republican, but not great either. Lance is known for voting regularly to keep government programs fat and happy. He is also a big supporter of unions, voting against repeal of regulations that raise costs and benefit unions.
The ACU got so fed up with Lance in 2012 that it endorsed his opponent in the Republican primary. Lance could be the most likely Republican House incumbent to draw a well-funded GOP challenger in 2018.
Lance has also been especially aggressive in dissing Trump.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)
Murkowski is a moderate Republican senator under pressure now that Obamacare has passed. It’s showing. Murkowski snapped at CNN reporter Manu Raju on Friday as he pressed her to specify whether she supported the repeal legislation passed in the House.
“Will you please be respectful?” Murkowski said.
Murkowski has a 54 rating from the ACU. As an incumbent, she famously lost her Republican primary in 2010 but won the general election as a write-in. She won her 2016 race more easily.
The pressure now is understandable. There are only 52 Republicans in the Senate, out of 100. The GOP can only lose two of them in repeal.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) commands much more power and influence of his smaller, more manageable caucus in the Senate than House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) does in the House. If McConnell wants a repeal bill, he will likely get at least 50 votes for it.