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Senate Republican on ACA: 'You got to look at it as positive'

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) previously tried to destroy the Affordable Care Act. His perspective has ... evolved.
Senator Charles \"Chuck\" Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, listens to a question during a Bloomberg Politics interview in Des Moines, Ia., Feb. 1, 2016. (Photo by Bloomberg/Getty)
Senator Charles \"Chuck\" Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, listens to a question during a Bloomberg Politics interview in Des Moines, Ia., Feb. 1, 2016. 

As far as Donald Trump is concerned, Senate Republicans should take the lead on crafting the GOP's alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Evidently, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee isn't eager to help in the endeavor.

Even Republicans who furiously fought the creation of the law and won elections with the mantra of repeal and replace speak favorably of President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement."Quite obviously, more people have health insurance than would otherwise have it, so you got to look at it as positive," Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a recent interview.

At a certain level, comments like these may seem so anodyne, they're hardly notable. Any responsible assessment of the Affordable Care Act and its effects would conclude that it obviously deserves to be seen in a positive light.

But in Republican politics over the last decade, rhetoric like Grassley's has been verboten. The only acceptable labels for "Obamacare" in GOP circles are words like "failure," "disaster," and attacks not suitable for publication on family websites like this one. To concede that the Affordable Care Act has helped millions, and has had a positive impact on the country, is to betray the Republican Party's goals and principles.

Indeed, Iowa's senior senator is an observer of particular relevance. Those who followed the debate over health-care reform closely may recall that by the fall of 2009, “no Republican received more TLC from Barack Obama” than Chuck Grassley. The Democratic president and his team reached out to him constantly, hoping that he was the kind of senator who would work in good faith towards bipartisan solutions.

He was not. While Grassley claimed to be serious about bipartisan solutions on health care reform, he was also, at the same time, making fundraising appeals urging donors to send him cash to help him “defeat Obama-care.” Grassley proceeded to talk up “death panel” garbage and tout Glenn Beck’s book.

By August 2009, Grassley told MSNBC that he was negotiating with the White House on a health care compromise, which Grassley was prepared to vote against, even if it included everything he asked for.

In the years that followed, the conservative Iowan did what hundreds of other GOP lawmakers did: Grassley voted to repeal the reform law -- in whole or in part -- several times.

And yet, here we are.

The Washington Post's Aaron Blake recently added, "It is worth taking stock of this moment. What we are seeing here is the marking of a willful GOP capitulation to Obamacare. Republicans are essentially admitting it is here to stay, barring unforeseen changes. They are trying to dress it up and put a good face on it for Trump, given that he apparently is not willing to concede the point. But it appears their long-emphasized push to get rid of this allegedly destructive law is effectively over."

I agree with 95% of this. GOP policymakers in Congress and the White House will occasionally go through the motions, condemning the ACA more out of habit than conviction, realizing that they will never come up with an alternative that can both gain the necessary political support and meet the public's needs and expectations.

But there is one related detail to keep in mind: there's still that ridiculous lawsuit hanging over the ACA like a sword. A Republican judge in Texas has already used the case to begin the process of destroying "Obamacare" in its entirety, and Donald Trump's White House recently agreed that the federal courts should do what elected officials could not: tear down the existing American health care system.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will take up the case in July, and whatever the outcome, the case may yet send the ACA to the U.S. Supreme Court for a third time.

When it comes to the legislative fight, Republicans have all but thrown in the towel, as Chuck Grassley's comments help demonstrate. When it comes to the electoral fight, GOP officials are now running around telling anyone who'll listen how much they love the Affordable Care Act's core elements.

But when it comes to the legal fight, Republicans still have a Hail Mary pass in mind, and much of the party still hopes it will successfully take health security from tens of millions of Americans.