In a nearly seven-minute monologue on his show last night, Jimmy Kimmel delivered an impassioned call for Congress to reject the latest Republican attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, insisting the bill put forward by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy was worse than the previous measures the Senate has rejected.
“Health care is complicated,” Kimmel told his audience. “It’s boring. The details are confusing and that’s what these guys are counting on.” He posted the Senate switchboard number on screen and urged his audience to call Washington and tell members of Congress to reject this “scam” of a bill. “Tell them this bill doesn’t pass your test,” Kimmel said.
It felt more like C-SPAN than late-night TV. And it’s only the latest example of how Kimmel has, for many Americans, become the face and voice of the health care fight.
Kimmel’s centrality to the attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare began in April when he revealed on-air that his infant son had been diagnosed with a heart ailment that required surgery – and would likely require future surgeries. He added that before Obamacare his son might not have been able to get coverage due to a pre-existing condition.
“If your baby is going to die and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make,” Kimmel said at the time. “I think that’s something that whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or something else, we all agree on that, right?”
Soon after Kimmel’s comments – which drew massive national attention –Cassidy invoked Kimmel’s name to lay out the principles he believed were necessary to pass a repeal and replacement of Obamacare.
“I ask, does it pass the Jimmy Kimmel test?” said Cassidy on CNN. “Would the child born with a congenital heart disease be able to get everything she or he would need in that first year of life … even if they go over a certain amount?”
Kimmel re-entered the fray in late July as the Senate neared a vote on repeal and replace when he took to Twitter to urge opposition to the effort.
“Billy is 3 months old & doing great. Thx for the love & support,” he tweeted. “Please remind your Congresspeople that every kid deserves the care he got.”
And, now, as the health care repeal effort reaches its climax, Kimmel is back – even while acknowledging the oddity of a late-night talk show host leading this fight.
“I never imagined I would get involved in something like this,” Kimmel said on Tuesday night. “This is not my area of expertise.”
(Worth noting: Kimmel has become much more political on a number of fronts of late. Last month, he spoke directly to Trump supporters in laying out the case for why their preferred candidate was not up to the job. And, earlier in September, he suggested that the main reason Trump wanted to eliminate DACA – although it’s not at all clear now that Trump does want to do that – is because it was a program put in place by Barack Obama.)
Talking about politics – particularly since Trump became a candidate in June 2015 – is not new for late night comedy. George W. Bush was a punching bag for late-night hosts. Barack Obama was revered by many of them.
What’s different about Kimmel is that he’s not cracking jokes about health care. He’s delivering emotional monologues – with policy details! – and urging legislative action (or trying to block legislative action). There’s barely a laugh line in that seven-minute monologue from last night.
Why has that worked for this most unlikely of messengers? Because when Kimmel talks about health care, he’s not talking as a celebrity. He’s talking as the dad of a little kid who has health problems and who he’s worried about. That’s a tremendously relatable thing. Everyone who has children knows how emotionally wrenching it can be to watch them struggle through the flu, much less a more serious health problem. And the idea of losing the ability to care for them in the best possible way because of a bill passed in Congress makes that pain all the more real.
To be clear: Not everyone has been moved by Kimmel. There are plenty of Republicans who see him as nothing more than a liberal Hollywood type whose celebrity somehow convinces him that he is an authority on health care policy. And that he is using his son’s illness to make a political point.
“I don’t need lectures from Huffington Post and Hollywood elites about having a heart. Neither do the rest of America’s parents, whatever their political affiliations, who know what it’s like to stay up night after endless night with suffering children, wondering whether they would ever be able to breathe normally again or see the light of the next day..
Kimmel had an answer ready for those critics.
“I am politicizing my son’s health problems because I have to,” he said to roaring applause from the crowd.