Three months ago tomorrow, Sen. Dean Heller (R) of Nevada made a dramatic announcement. Standing alongside his home state's Republican governor, Nevada's Brian Sandoval, Heller became the first GOP senator to declare his opposition to his party's health care repeal plan.
By any fair measure, it was a bold move, which changed the trajectory of the fight. After Heller broke ranks, citing the importance of protecting Medicaid beneficiaries, other Republican senators soon followed, and the initial plan crafted by the GOP leadership failed.
But as political pressure increased, Heller wavered. When it came time to consider the Republicans' "skinny repeal" measure, for example, the Nevada senator toed the party line and voted with his party. Complicating matters, Heller soon after said he was "pleased" that the bill he voted for didn't pass.
A couple of weeks later, Heller claimed credit for having protected Medicaid from his own party, only to turn around soon after and become a leading sponsor of the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson plan that would impose deep Medicaid cuts.
CNN reported yesterday:
The shifts, Heller's Republican and Democratic opponents say, suggest he is operating out of fear -- first worried about not looking like a moderate, and then looking too much like a moderate.
I think that's right, and I think the result has pushed Heller into total incoherence. As a candidate, he endorsed ACA repeal, like nearly every other Republican. But when push came to shove, he announced his opposition to his party's repeal plan, then he supported a different repeal plan, then he was happy about the failure of the bill he voted in favor of, then he co-authored a different plan that does the one thing he said he's against.
Heller is the only GOP Senate incumbent up for re-election next year in a state Hillary Clinton won, and he's already facing both a credible primary challenger and a strong Democratic candidate. Perhaps the pressure is getting to him?