by Robert King · May 18, 2017
Replacing Obamacare has become a pleasant topic for Senate Republicans, who are being bombarded with questions about President Trump’s scandals.
On Wednesday, Sen. John Barrasso was discussing Medicaid spending when a reporter asked for comment about a memo written by former FBI Director James Comey that said Trump had asked him to drop his agency’s investigation into former national security adviser Mike Flynn’s ties to Russia.
“No, I’m going to stay on Medicaid,” the Wyoming senator politely responded before ducking into a closed-door meeting.
Lawmakers are relishing the chance to avoid talking about the Comey memo, Trump’s firing of Comey a week ago and news that Trump gave highly classified intelligence to top Russian officials.
Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, who was discussing the fate of Obamacare’s individual mandate and Medicaid expansion with reporters, laughed when he was asked if he was happy to have a break from questions about Trump.
“I appreciate the good questions on healthcare,” he said.
Republican senators making their way to votes or meetings in the Capitol for days have been met by swarms of reporters asking for comment on the latest scandal involving the White House. The New York Times first reported the Comey memo Tuesday night.
The scrums have become so bad that the Senate Periodical Gallery, which oversees credentials for reporters, sent around a warning: “Collectively, the press following senators have become large and aggressive. We are concerned someone may get hurt.”
Senators have been searching for relief from Comey questions for more than a week.
After Comey was fired May 9, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, made her way to the subway underneath the Capitol answering questions about the termination. As she approached the subway car to return to her Senate office, a reporter asked her a quick question on healthcare reform.
“Healthcare, there’s an issue I want to talk about,” she said but didn’t talk anymore before the subway doors closed.
Several Republicans said they don’t believe the White House scandals, although distracting and dominating the news, will derail their work on healthcare. The chamber, which has decided to write its own version of an Obamacare repeal plan instead of using the House version that passed this month, hasn’t set a deadline to finish their work.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who has been pushing his own Obamacare repeal bill alongside Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said he didn’t think the scandals would hurt their efforts.
“In the one sense, it is distracting but in the other it allows us to multitask,” he said.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., added that Republicans need to “focus on our work and try not to get distracted by the various distractions.”
Toomey sits on the working group, and Cassidy is spearheading bipartisan talks alongside Collins with some centrist Democrats.
The working group meets twice a week and the Senate is holding conference-wide GOP lunches to provide updates on healthcare. No legislative text or consensus on a proposal has emerged.