Fallout from special counsel Robert Mueller’s report is far from over, but House Democratic leaders showed on Tuesday that they want to focus attention on defending the Affordable Care Act after the Trump administration said that the entire health care law should be struck down.
During a closed-door House Democratic caucus meeting, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talked about strengthening the health care law, according to an aide in the room, and urged House Democrats to remain focused on their agenda of pushing for lower health care costs along with other policy priorities.
In what has been a chaotic series of days since Mueller’s investigation wrapped, the fight to protect Obamacare on Tuesday offered House Democrats a unifying issue for a diverse caucus that has some members calling for the party to move on with the Democratic agenda and others – albeit a small faction – repeating calls for President Donald Trump’s impeachment.
A large portion of Tuesday’s meeting was focused on health care, which Democrats are eager to move onto, according to four sources present in the meeting, with Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the influential House Intelligence Committee, saying that the most important thing that happened in the past 24 hours was the administration’s attack on former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
The focus on health care comes just days after Attorney General William Barr sent shock waves through Washington by sending lawmakers a summary of the findings of the Mueller report. It also comes as Democrats are demanding a public release of the report itself.
The summary stated that the inquiry “did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election” and that the special counsel “did not draw a conclusion” on the question of obstruction of justice. Barr further stated that he and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein came to the conclusion that there was not sufficient evidence “to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
Congressional Democrats, who have been on high alert anticipating the results of the investigation, argue that the American public must have a chance to see what the special counsel wrote in his report, rather than being forced to rely solely on a summary from a Trump administration political appointee.
Barr has said that he intends to release as much as possible from the report. In his letter to Congress, he said that he is working to determine what can be publicly released, noting that Mueller will be involved in scrubbing the report to identify grand jury material that must remain secret.
As they wait to see what will be publicly released, Democrats must now grapple with how to navigate a post-Mueller political landscape.
’We are going to hammer them on this’
Democratic leaders made clear during the closed-door House Democratic caucus meeting on Tuesday that as they wait, they want their members to pivot sharply back to health care.
Multiple Democratic committee chairs, including Frank Pallone, the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Richard Neal, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Bobby Scott, the chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, all got up during the meeting to speak about both the Department of Justice filing last night and the legislative package of Obamacare fixes and rollbacks of Trump administration health care policies that House Democrats unveiled on Tuesday.
In a filing with a federal appeals court, the Justice Department said it agreed with the ruling of a federal judge in Texas that invalidated the Obama-era health care law.
“The message was we are going to hammer them on this,” one person inside the room of the Democratic caucus meeting said of the Justice Department filing and Republicans. “And we should – it’s exactly what we campaigned on.”
Talking points circulated to House Democrats underscored the focus, stating in part “Trump Declares War on Health Care.”
Many members leaving the Democrats’ caucus meeting on Tuesday morning said that while there was discussion in the wake of the Mueller report, there was talk in the closed-door meeting about needing to be refocused on their legislative priorities — like health care — while also fulfilling their oversight responsibilities.
Rep. David Cicilline, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said that many Democrats believe “it’s really important to remind the American people the work that we’re doing on their behalf. We won an election by focusing on an agenda that focuses on the urgent needs of the American people getting good paying jobs, protecting access to quality affordable health care, taking on the corruption In Washington.”
“We have to do a better job of talking about it and not allowing all of the attention to be about the oversight responsibilities and Russia investigation,” Cicilline said.
“We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” said Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. “You can do what we are required to do by way of oversight and investigation and at the same time look at the challenges and the issues that are facing the American people they cried out for us to do something about that last November and let’s precisely what we’re doing.”
As Democrats spotlight health care, Trump arrived on Capitol Hill on Tuesday with his own message, arguing that the Republican Party is “the party of health care.”
Asked what his message to Americans is following his administration’s announcement taking aim at the ACA, Trump said, “Let me just tell you exactly what my message is: the Republican Party will soon be known as the party of health care. You watch.”
Trump did not elaborate.
Democrats vow to fight to save ACA ‘with every breath that we have’
Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer countered the President’s message on Tuesday by arguing that the GOP agenda harms Americans with pre-existing conditions.
“Make no mistake about it, this is an escalation of the Trump administration and Republicans’ attacks on protections for people with pre-existing conditions,” Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor.
Pelosi said at an event touting legislation to strengthen the Affordable Care Act that “the GOP will never stop trying to destroy the affordable health care for America’s families.”
Pelosi hit the Trump administration, saying that the Justice Department “decided not only to try to destroy protections for pre-existing conditions, but to tear down every last benefit and protection the ACA affords.”
The message that Democrats will focus on health care and other policy issues was echoed by other House Democratic leaders on Tuesday.
House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries said that the caucus will focus on “kitchen table, pocket book issues.”
“We are going to continue to focus on the issues that are of importance for the American people. House Democrats are focused on kitchen table, pocket book issues involving lower health care costs and increase pay for every day Americans,” Jeffries said.
The House Democratic Caucus Chair added, “Nowhere in the ‘For the People’ agenda does it talk about Russia. Nowhere in the ‘For the People’ agenda does it talk about collusion. Nowhere in the ‘For the People’ agenda does it talk about obstruction of justice.”
Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas said that Congress will “fight with every breath that we have” against the push to eliminate the ACA, adding that the courts “cannot accept this litigation and give it a victory.”
“My heart is broken as it relates to the Affordable Care Act,” she said. “I have no idea what has possessed the administration because they campaigned on saying that we are not going to take away insurance from those with preexisting conditions. Now they’re seeing to literally destroy the health safety net of the United States of America,” she added.
She added, “We are going to fight with every breath that we have against taking away Americans health insurance and taking away the very lifeline for children.”
CNN’s Jeremy Herb, Betsy Klein and Tami Luhby contributed to this report.