McSally, Trump haunted by their records on pre-existing conditions

Maybe Republicans like Trump and Martha McSally would be better off focusing on something other than protections for those with pre-existing conditions?
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By Steve Benen

Donald Trump traveled to Arizona this week, where he delivered a strange speech that touched on a key national issue.

"We will always protect people with pre-existing conditions. And you have Martha's pledge that she is going to do that also. So, we're going to do that. And the Democrats can't make that pledge...."

The whole point was a mess. Trump, who's repeatedly lied about his position on protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions, is currently asking the Supreme Court to destroy the Affordable Care Act in its entirety -- and if the justices were to agree, it would necessarily end those protections. For that matter, the idea that "Democrats can't make that pledge" is bizarre, since Democrats are the ones who created the existing protections in the first place.

But I was also struck by the reference to "Martha" and her "pledge."

The president was, of course, referring to appointed Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), who's facing a tough race in Arizona this year, just two years after losing a different tough Senate race in her state. Hoping to avoid the same fate, the Republican seems eager to present herself to voters as if she were a moderate -- almost center-left -- on health care.

A few months ago, for example, McSally's campaign unveiled an ad featuring a cancer survivor who said the GOP senator is "fighting for what's right when it comes to pre-existing conditions and making sure everybody has access to health care." What viewers weren't told was that the woman giving the testimonial was one of McSally's own former aides.

This week, the Republican lawmaker unveiled another ad in which she again says she's committed to "protecting those with pre-existing conditions."

I don't doubt that McSally's team has polling data that shows how important this issue is to voters, which is very likely why she keeps repeating the line. The trouble is, McSally's record is getting in the way.

In 2017, at Trump's behest, House Republicans pushed a far-right "repeal-and-replace" plan, intended to scrap the Affordable Care Act and impose a regressive alternative. As regular readers may recall, it was controversial and wildly unpopular for a reason: the GOP plan, among other things, was designed to allow private insurers to punish Americans with pre-existing conditions, charging them much higher premiums.

But some in the GOP ranks demanded the party press on anyway. According to some accounts, then-Rep. Martha McSally told her partisan allies ahead of the vote, "Let's get this f**king thing done!" She proceeded to vote for her party's scheme.

It ended up failing anyway -- even the White House distanced itself from the far-right proposal that McSally supported -- leaving its supporters high and dry. The next year, House Republicans lost their majority altogether, and plenty of campaign analysts agree that the GOP's health-care gambit had a lot to do with their electoral failure.

Indeed, during her 2018 Senate candidacy, McSally tried to pretend she was vaguely progressive on health care, but she lost the race after Democrats focused heavily on the Republican plan she voted for.

And now, it's déjà vu all over again. McSally is again vowing to look out for those with pre-existing conditions -- a claim that's drawn fire from fact-checkers before -- despite having supported a plan that would've hurt those with pre-existing conditions -- as Donald Trump does largely the same thing.

Maybe Republicans like these would be better off focusing on a different issue?