An Open Letter to Senators Capito, Heller, Murkowski, and Portman

Dear Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Senator Dean Heller, Senator Lisa Murkowski, and Senator Rob Portman,

A few months ago, my mother called her local Congressional representative, a Republican named Frank LoBiondo (NJ-2), and asked him to vote no on the American Health Care Act. He called her back personally to tell her that there was nothing he could do to stop the current Republican agenda. saying, “I’m just one legislator, what can I do?”

Never in my wildest dreams or my harshest invective did I think that this lack of spine, this unwillingness to stand up to party leadership, was a party-wide problem — until today.

All four of you are widely-respected Republican senators. All four of you expressed your opposition to the Better Care Reconciliation Act, which led Mitch McConnell to withdraw the bill before the July 4th recess. Yet now, not even two weeks later, you’re all either undecided or receptive to a bill that is worse than the bill you rejected — which now includes an amendment from Ted Cruz that would provide insurance plans so skimpy that they are not even considered insurance by the rest of the BCRA, and would likely throw the entire healthcare industry into a death spiral by creating a high-risk pool.

The BCRA is opposed by patients, doctors, hospitals, the AARP, insurance companies, actuaries, and Republican governors alike. The most recent polling had a majority of the American public against the BCRA, with 52% opposed, and only 18% supporting it. Under this bill, the uninsured rate in 2022 would soar. By state, it would be be 58.6% higher in Alaska, 75.5% higher in Nevada, 178.1% higher in Ohio, and 299.4% higher in West Virginia. These numbers were unacceptable to you all two weeks ago. Are they still unacceptable now?

What has changed since July 4th and now? The only things I can think of are the Cruz amendment and Mitch McConnell beginning to promise individual senators payoffs — payoffs that, while individually very large, do not begin to make up for the losses that your constituents would bear the brunt of.

You are all Republicans. The name of your party comes from “republic”, our form of government, where democratically-elected officials represent their citizens’ views by voting in the legislature. Representing your constituents’ views is your entire job. You are supposed to be part of the checks and balances on the executive branch, not a blank check for the President, nor a blank slate for the Senate Majority Leader.

Right now, the charge for the BCRA is being led by three people, Senator Ted Cruz, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Vice President Mike Pence, who would be the tie-breaking vote if the Senate is deadlocked (as it currently is) 50–50. Let us discuss their behavior in the last few days, the difference between their words to you and their actions.

Ted Cruz is lying to you about the implications of his amendment. He is telling some senators it creates one pool of insured, and other senators that it creates two pools. He cannot be telling the truth to all senators. The bare-bone plans allowed by his amendment would not be considered continuous insurance coverage by the very bill that would introduce them, and contrary to Ted Cruz’s claim, would provide no additional funding to states. You have all been colleagues of Ted Cruz since 2013. You know his measure. Do you think he would lie to you? Cruz also wants the vice president to overrule the Senate parliamentarian to make sure this bill can be passed under reconciliation, which would destroy any chance of bipartisan accord in the Senate forever. He would need your votes to do this — and he thinks you’ll vote with him.

Mike Pence, the current Vice President, a man one heartbeat or resignation letter away from the most powerful role in the world, is lying about the ACA exchanges in Ohio so baldly that John Kasich, the Republican governor, has issued statements correcting him. Think of what this says about this bill, that the Vice President’s only option to sell it is by bearing false witness.

Mitch McConnell is trying to buy you off so that he can give tax cuts to the ultra-wealthy. He has some billions of dollars to give you in cuts, which he can only afford because he is cutting Medicaid by ten times that amount. Mitch McConnell warned you against working bipartisanly to fix the healthcare system. What kind of leader warns against bipartisanship? He is a disgrace to the country and to the legacy of the great Henry Clay, who once held his seat.

As I write this letter, Mitch McConnell is reaching out to you and the governors of your states, trying to get you onboard by any means possible. The Trump administration is literally describing these payoffs as “bribes”. Lisa Murkowski has been offered the “Polar Payout”, hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money over ten years, even though thousands of Alaskans would no longer qualify for Medicaid under the BRCA. Dean Heller has also been offered money for Nevada, though Governor Sandoval and the CBPP agree that the cuts would leave 210,000 Nevadans uninsured. Rob Portman and Shelley Moore Capito care very much about the opioid crisis in their states. The BCRA would hurt states’ ability to respond to it. There is no amount of money that he can give you that would make up for the loss of healthcare that will occur under the BRCA. The only reason he has this money in the first place is because he is taking it away from our health care to give to you.

I have been calling your offices every day, fighting for my friends and family members who live in your states but don’t have the time or resources to call you. (Senators Capito, Heller, and Murkowski, your offices have some of the nicest staffers I’ve ever encountered. Senator Portman, I’m sorry to say that some of your staffers have been less than pleasant.) I have pleaded, I have argued, I have stated facts, I have been persuasive. Sometimes, I have wept. The enormity of the task is great: finding three senators who can stand up to Mitch McConnell on a health care bill no one wants is ridiculously difficult. I take this letter directly to you, in hopes that you can remember your civic duty.

Why are you in office? What drove you to public service? Why are you allowing this desecration of Senate norms? Why are you each allowing yourselves to be the 50th vote Mitch McConnell needs to tie together the most unpopular bill in Senate history? Why are you not working with Democrats?

You have a few more days. You can find your spine in this time. You can hold open meetings with your constituents and listen to their concerns. You could try doing the math on how poorly the BCRA holds up — I know the actuaries would love to do it for you. And if Mitch McConnell owns you body and soul and you cannot find yourselves able to say the word “no” to him — leave the Senate floor. Get out of DC, it’s miserable in the summer. Go on vacation with your spouse and children. Attend a wedding. Fake getting sick. Really get sick — even if the BCRA passes, you, unlike your constituents, will maintain your full health care.

Mitch MCConnell might believe that working with the Democrats on fixing the insurance markets is a fate worse than death, but your Republican constituents disagree: only 39% of GOP voters want the Republicans to make their own health care plan, while 57% believe that you should be working across the aisle. Less than two weeks ago, we celebrated the 241st year since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which reaffirms that governments “[derive] their just powers from the consent of the governed.” You cannot honestly believe that your constituents consented to their health care being cut and their premiums jumping.

Stand together, and stand up for your constituents, because If you stand for nothing, look what you’ll fall for.

One last note: my father has been a registered Republican for over forty years, though he’s always sardonically insisted that the only difference between the parties is that Democrats get better press. He is the college-educated white male voter that Democrats and Republicans alike seek out, and has voted for both. But after he heard Representative LoBiondo’s phone call to my mother saying, “what can I do, I’m just one legislator?”, my father updated his voter registration. LoBiondo eventually changed his mind and voted no, but the damage was done by his wavering — despite having voted for LoBiondo in eleven straight elections, he is now a member of the Democratic Party, and he is now volunteering for get-out-the-vote efforts for 2018 and beyond. Just look at what one legislator can do when he really sets his mind to it.


Rachel Lazerus