McConnell says a bit too much about his party's health care problem

If McConnell is sure Barrett won't "block families like hers from accessing medical care," why does he support a lawsuit that would do exactly that?
Image: Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks on the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol on March 25, 2020.Senate Television via AP

In the wake of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's passing, and Donald Trump's nomination of a conservative critic of the Affordable Care Act, the Democrats' election-year message is obvious: Republicans are trying to tear down the nation's health care system and strip tens of millions of families of their health security.

For his part, the president has been surprisingly eager to endorse the Democratic strategy, publicly acknowledging his eagerness to destroy the ACA, despite its efficacy and popularity. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tried to argue yesterday that the public has little to fear -- because he expects Amy Coney Barrett, if confirmed, would leave the ACA intact.

On the Senate floor, Mr. McConnell and Mr. Schumer argued bitterly over the confirmation. Brushing past Judge Barrett's writings casting doubt on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, the Republican leader accused the Democrats of fabricating a threat to Americans' health care to score political points. "That's the claim: This mother of seven, including multiple children who were born or adopted facing pre-existing medical challenges, is just itching to block families like hers from accessing medical care," Mr. McConnell said. "What a joke."

In other words, as far as Capitol Hill's top Republican is concerned, the idea that Barrett would strike down "Obamacare" isn't just wrong; it's laughably foolish.

The politics of this are easy to understand: McConnell no doubt realizes that health care is a terrible issue for the GOP, and with the Affordable Care Act in severe jeopardy, his party's Senate majority is at risk. The Kentucky Republican has an obvious incentive to tell voters that they have nothing to fear from the Senate ramming Amy Coney Barrett onto the high court bench.

There are, however, all kinds of reasons to believe McConnell is wrong. After all, Barrett has been deeply critical of the ACA. For that matter, even if she were to side with other Republican-appointed justices in destroying the nation's existing health care system, Barrett wouldn't have to worry about leaving her family without coverage -- because they'd all be covered under the federal employees' system that existed before the Affordable Care Act became law 10 years ago.

But what struck me as amazing was McConnell's willingness to say more than he probably intended. Here's that quote again: "That's the claim: This mother of seven, including multiple children who were born or adopted facing pre-existing medical challenges, is just itching to block families like hers from accessing medical care. What a joke."

In other words, Barrett wouldn't dare strike down the ACA because she has children with medical issues, and she wouldn't vote to deny care to her family and families like it.

Even if one were inclined to believe this about the conservative judge's intentions, what exactly does this say about the Republican champions of the pending lawsuit? A list that includes Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell?

If the Senate's Republican leader is confident that Barrett won't "block families like hers from accessing medical care," can he explain why he and his party support a lawsuit that would do exactly that?