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Juan Williams: Republicans have just handed Democrats a huge political gift

Juan Williams

Editor's note: The following column originally appeared in The Hill newspaper and TheHill.com.

Rush Limbaugh is not pleased.

Having failed to pass any major legislation in President Trump’s first 100 days, the GOP kicked off the president’s second 100 days by passing a massive $1 trillion spending bill chock-full of Democratic priorities, including funding for Planned Parenthood.

So, when Vice President Pence called into Limbaugh’s radio show last week, the king of conservative talk radio let him have it.  

“If this is what happens, Mr. Vice President, why vote Republican? What is the point of voting Republican if the Democrats are going to continue to win practically 95 percent of their objectives, such as in this last budget deal?” Limbaugh asked.

Top of mind for Limbaugh and other leading conservatives is the GOP’s failure, so far, to live up to its promise to produce a better health care plan than the Affordable Care Act — or, as they always put it, “to repeal and replace ObamaCare.”

House Republicans held 60 symbolic votes to kill the health care plan. Candidate Trump promised to replace President Obama’s program with a plan that gives “everybody” better coverage at less cost and to do it “very quickly.”

So in a desperate effort to tell Limbaugh and his listeners they are keeping this promise, the GOP passed a health care bill last week that leaves more people without insurance.

About 24 million people will lose coverage over a decade by official estimates. The GOP plan will also drive up costs for seniors and give hospitals financial incentives to turn away Medicare patients.

Despite rushing through a bill that hurts so many people, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the former head of the hard-right Freedom Caucus, admits the bill does not repeal ObamaCare.

“This is the best bill we can get out of the House,” he said in a CNN interview last week. “But frankly, we should be clear this is not repeal of ObamaCare. If it was repeal, you wouldn’t need the option for a waiver option for states to seek. So, we have to be clear with the voters about that, and continue to work on it.”

Work on it?

The Republicans have been working on it for the last seven years. They have engaged in all-out sabotage. Yet they have not come up with a better plan. The AARP, the March of Dimes and the American Medical Association all oppose their proposal.

The bill has no future. The Republican majority in the Senate is trying to come up with its own plan. And whatever comes out of the Republican majority in the Senate has no chance of surviving conference committee with the hardline members of the House Freedom Caucus.

Now, consider the politics of 2018.

Keep in mind the wave of House Democrats who lost seats after Obama passed his healthcare plan. Now, hear from Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who says that House Republicans have this flawed plan “tattooed to their forehead.”

An ABC News/Washington Post poll from April found 61 percent of Americans — including 21 percent of self-described Republicans — want Congress to keep the law in place and try to improve it. Just 37 percent of Americans still say “repeal and replace.”

A March Quinnipiac poll on the GOP bill found just 17 percent of Americans in support of it; 56 percent were opposed and 26 percent were undecided.

True, these polls were conducted before some amendments. But the basics of the bill did not change. That’s why it was rushed through.

On that score, it is striking that older, white, and working-class voters who gave Trump his victory are being betrayed by Trump. Under the House bill, older people can be charged higher rates; states can allow plans with no coverage for prescription drugs; and they can waive protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

The political lesson for Republican voters is that Republican politicians have lost touch with them while competing to see who can cater to the most extreme voices on talk radio.

A Gallup poll taken in January 2017 found that 30 percent of Republicans self-identify as moderates and seven percent say they are liberal Republicans. That is a sizable minority of moderate voices in a Republican party in which 63 percent describe themselves as conservatives.

But those moderate voices are being marginalized, demonized and derided as RINOs — “Republicans in Name Only” — as they call for Republicans to stop playing politics and focus on fixing the flaws in the Affordable Care Act.

Moderate Republicans have been sacrificed for a bad bill.

For example, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) helped scuttle the flawed House GOP health care bill in March and voted against the new version last week.

Now she has announced her retirement at the end of this Congress, after 28 years in the House.

Ros-Lehtinen is the most senior Republican woman in the House, and she won reelection in a South Florida district that backed Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump by 20 points in 2016. Her purple district is one of 23 Congressional districts represented by Republicans that supported Clinton over Trump.

Remember that as the House is currently composed, Democrats need to flip only 24 seats to retake the majority. 

Democrats see the health care debacle as a boon to their candidates — a thesis that may be confirmed if Democrat Jon Ossoff pulls off a surprise win in June’s Georgia special election to fill Republican Tom Price’s old House seat. 

Playing games with health care makes it less likely each day that the GOP will keep their House majority in 2018.

The GOP has just handed the Democrats a huge political gift.

Juan Williams currently serves as a co-host of FOX News Channel's (FNC) "The Five" (weekdays, 9-10PM/ET) and also appears as a political analyst on "FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace" and "Special Report with Bret Baier."