Texas Senator John Cornyn voted 20 times to do away with Obamacare, but says that the “good news” for the millions of people who lost their jobs, and with them their health insurance, as COVID-19 struck is that they can sign up for Obamacare. He went on to tout the federal subsidies that make the Affordable Care Act affordable.
Republican senators up for reelection are searching for any safe harbor they can find. But their duplicity will be on display when another anti-Obamacare judge, Cory Wilson, nominated for the Fifth Circuit, fields questions in a hearing Wednesday afternoon before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Cornyn sits on, about calling the ACA “perverse” and “illegitimate,” and declaring outright that he hopes the Supreme Court strikes it down.
There is nothing subtle about Wilson, a former state legislator in Mississippi who has a track record of hyperbolic tweets about President Obama, the Clintons, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Initially nominated last year for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, he is now up for an even more prestigious lifetime appointment as a Circuit Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
At Wilson’s hearing in January for the District judgeship, Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), who is on the Judiciary Committee, read aloud a string of Wilson’s incendiary tweets where he sounds like a partisan hack, elevating anti-Clinton scandals using the hashtag Crooked Hillary, and deriding everything from marriage equality (a pander to liberal groups and an effort to make Republicans look intolerant) to gun safety (he’s for carrying firearms on public property and in houses of worship).
His over-the-top rhetoric is antithetical to what constitutes a judicial temperament, and in Wednesday’s hearing Democrats are expected to zero in on his tweets and writings along with his unabashed opposition to the ACA even in the midst of a pandemic.
In an email to the Daily Beast, Hirono wrote, “During his confirmation hearing for the district court, Cory Wilson demonstrated that he’s a right-wing partisan who would bring his extreme ideology to the federal bench. Now, in the middle of a pandemic, Donald Trump is seeking to elevate Mr. Wilson to the Fifth Circuit precisely because he is an ardent opponent of the Affordable Care Act and is hostile to voting rights. Wilson’s extreme record shows exactly what Republicans’ priorities are during this public health emergency.”
This is the second try by Republicans to fill this vacancy on the Fifth Circuit, where the most significant challenges to the ACA have originated. If Wilson is confirmed, he would be in position to hear those challenges to the law. The previous nominee for the seat, U.S. District Judge Halil Suleyman Ozerden, lost the confidence of Judiciary Committee Republicans Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, who found he wasn’t enough of a conservative activist. “What have you done to advance the cause?” Cruz asked Ozerden.
Wilson is not one of the super-young ones Trump is sending to the federal court. He’s 49, old enough to have demonstrated what he has done and will do for the cause. He is, for example, a strong advocate for voter ID and for voter roll purges, which has drawn the ire of the NAACP and other civil-rights groups.
“They know who they’re getting,” says Dan Goldberg with the liberal advocacy group, Alliance for Justice. “This is not someone who’s going to read briefs and rule with an open mind. Even if the Supreme Court upholds the ACA, there’ll always be another lawsuit.”
Like all the other Trump judges, Wilson is a member of the Federalist Society, having joined in college. And like most of the others, he is white and male. If confirmed, he would add to the lack of diversity on the Fifth Circuit, which represents the two states with the largest percentage of African-Americans (Mississippi, 38 percent, and Louisiana, 32 percent), and Texas, which has the second largest percentage of Hispanics in the country (40 percent). Two of the Fifth Circuit’s 17 active judges are African-Americans; none are Hispanic.
With rare exception, Republicans vote lockstep for these judges who will effectively legislate from the bench policies that would not survive the light of day in a competitive race. Democrats will be hammering home that disconnect. “In the Senate and House races, it’s 2018 all over again,” says Leslie Dach with Protect Our Care, the group leading the fight to preserve and protect the ACA. “If you believe health care was important then (in 2018), it’s even more important now. If you’re a Republican incumbent, holding on to Trump is not so good anymore.”
Polls show Trump losing ground among older Americans. “Older Americans are the most vulnerable—and the most news-aware,” says Dach.
“To the extent a guy like Cornyn thinks the ACA is a lifeline, the voters are going to pull it away from him because they know he’s not telling the truth about his record. If you are a Republican incumbent, you’re stuck with Trump’s determination to terminate the ACA, and COVID is an anchor around your neck.”
Jessica Taylor with the Cook Report, a non-partisan newsletter that analyzes elections and campaigns, calls that “a quandary that Republicans put themselves in.”
After campaigning for the last six years on “repeal and replace,” Republicans came up empty-handed. They didn’t have a replacement. Now Obamacare is popular, especially the feature that prevents insurance companies from discriminating against people with preexisting conditions.
The issue of health care that shifted the balance of power in the House two years ago is magnified by the crisis the country is in now with the pandemic. The Cook Report rates Cornyn’s seat as “likely” Republican, not “safe” Republican. “Cornyn does have to be careful,” says Taylor. “A lot of these Republicans are in a hard spot. They lost the House in 2018 on this issue, and if they’re not careful, they’ll lose the senate in 2020.”
Cornyn’s senate office did not respond to an email asking if his views on the ACA had changed.