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House Republican 'moderates' fracture in the wake of health care dispute

The GOP's centrist Tuesday Group lost its leader yesterday. The so-called "moderates" now have a decision to make.
(FILES) This file photo taken on October 17, 2013 shows the US Capitol building before sunrise in Washington, DC. ...
Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), as much as any individual in D.C., rescued the Republican Party's radical health care plan from legislative failure. Now he's facing the consequences.The backlash in MacArthur's home state of New Jersey has already been harsh -- the American Health Care Act's impact on the Garden State is especially brutal -- and yesterday, the GOP lawmaker parted ways with the Capitol Hill caucus he'd been tasked with leading. Politico was the first to report on MacArthur's departure from the Tuesday Group.

Rep. Tom MacArthur resigned Tuesday as co-chairman of the caucus of GOP moderates known as the Tuesday Group in the wake of deep divisions among its members over the House Obamacare replacement bill he helped craft."You can't lead people where they don't want to go," MacArthur said Tuesday morning in an interview with POLITICO New Jersey. "I think some people in the group just have a different view of what governing is."

MacArthur, who announced his resignation during the group's regular gathering yesterday after just five months at the helm, conceded that the Tuesday Group "is divided."The argument that the health care fight is bringing Republicans together with a sense of common purpose is looking a little shaky. Indeed, the opposite appears to be true.And while it's not yet clear who'll take the reins at the Tuesday Group, MacArthur's resignation offers its members an opportunity to ask themselves an important question: what exactly is the role of an ostensible "centrist" in a Congress where radicalized Republicans are in charge?For MacArthur, the answer was to work with extremists to pass a regressive bill that would take health care benefits from millions of Americans while gutting protections for those with pre-existing conditions. With MacArthur out, these so-called "moderate" Republicans can explore a new answer to the question.I'm reminded of a recent piece in Slate from Reihan Salam, who accurately noted that the GOP's middle-of-the-road members "don't stand for anything."

Going forward, the Tuesday Group needs to be more than just a collection of swing-seat Republicans who are afraid of their own shadows. If the Freedom Caucus stands for shrinking government, the Tuesday Group should stand for a cause of its own, like modernizing government for the 21st century (or some other appropriately moderate-sounding cliché). Don't just roll over when Ryan comes looking for your votes. Craft a coherent program and insist on shaping legislation. [...]With an attractive enough program, the Tuesday Group might develop a pretty appealing brand, which could help it weather ups and downs in the popularity of the larger GOP. That won't be possible unless the moderates get it together and grow spines.

That's good advice. In March, when House Republicans balked at a less extreme version of the GOP health care bill, 33 Tuesday Group members voiced support for their party's plan. In early May, asked to vote on a vastly more radical alternative, 33 Tuesday Group members again supported the GOP proposal.They knew how much damage it would do; they knew the bill hadn't received so much as a hearing; and they knew the bill was being rushed to the floor without a report from the Congressional Budget Office on what it would cost. Most of the Tuesday Group went along anyway.With MacArthur out, its members can take a breath, ask what the purpose of the group is, and consider whether meek obedience to the Republican leadership that ignores them is the best use of their time.