If you visited Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ (R-WA) campaign website in 2014, you would have had no doubt what she wanted to do with Obamacare. She wanted to kill it.
Four years later, Rodgers’ hatred for President Obama’s signature domestic law has not just softened on her campaign website, it’s disappeared. Her site today doesn’t make reference to the Affordable Care Act under the healthcare section. Instead, it refers to Rodgers “getting a ten-year extension for children’s health care funding” and her support for “more doctors in rural communities.”
McMorris Rodgers, the highest ranking Republican woman in the House, isn’t the only one making such edits. Across the country, endangered Republican incumbents have dramatically softened their tone on the Affordable Care Act. Some have fully whitewashed their previous criticisms.
A thorough review of current and former websites of endangered Republican House members found 20 examples of these changes from either 2014 or 2016 to this current election cycle. The alterations reflect the dramatic evolution in the politics of Obamacare. The law had been the bete noire of conservatives since the moment it was conceived. And when Donald Trump won the presidency, the Republican-led Congress made a run at repealing it, with House members, including McMorris Rodgers, passing legislation to replace the bill in May 2017. The Senate ultimately failed to act. But as part of the tax reform bill, lawmakers did remove one of Obamacare’s chief provisions: the individual mandate requiring people to have health coverage.
The adjustment in the health care sections of House Republican members’ websites may reflect those votes. But it most likely speaks to the change in public opinion on the law since Trump took office. With Obamacare under threat, the public has rallied dramatically to it, with red-state Democrats now on the offensive on key parts of the legislation, and Republicans pledging that even they want to keep components, like the protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions.
"In the last midterm, voters didn't believe the threat of health care repeal was real,” Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson, who was deputy director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2014, told The Daily Beast. “Obamacare wasn't going away with Obama in the White House. That all changed.”
Now, he surmised: “If you ask a Republican why they voted for health care repeal, they'll change the topic faster than you can blink your eyes. They're like the crew of the Titanic trying to talk about the nice weather they're having after the ship already hit the iceberg and was taking on water."
It was much different in 2014. Then, being the party opposing Obamacare was politically fruitful. In that year’s midterm elections, Republicans gained nine seats in the Senate and 13 in the House, giving them their largest majority in Congress in over 70 years.
“It has been a disaster for middle class families,” reads an archived version of Coffman’s website. “Premiums are rising for middle class families, deductibles are skyrocketing and families are losing access to their long time doctors. Despite promises by the President and Democrats that people could keep their doctors and health insurance if they liked them, the opposite has proved true.”
Coffman would, in the end, vote against the House bill to repeal the ACA. And four years after calling it a disaster, he now has a softer critique of the legislation on his website.
“Health care costs have not gone down under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as Obamacare, as promised,” his 2018 site reads. “The consumer protections under the ACA, such as allowing dependents to stay on a parent’s policy until age 26, and prohibiting discrimination based on gender or pre-existing conditions should remain. Beyond that, states should be given discretion, within broad parameters, to devise their own solutions to bring down cost and to broaden access. ”
In Michigan, Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), who has served since 1993, touts himself on his current website as a “common-sense voice when it comes to heated health care debates” and says “his focus is on ensuring everyone here in Michigan and across the country has access to affordable, quality health care and those with pre-existing conditions are protected.”
Yet, when he was running in 2014, Upton advertised himself as “a national leader in the fight against the President’s controversial healthcare law.”
“Fred voted against the law’s passage and one of his very first acts as Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee was to shepherd through repeal legislation, which passed the House on January 19, 2011 by a vote of 245-189,” it continues.
The changes are more severe on other sites.
In 2016, Rep. Mike Bost’s (R-IL) website said “Obamacare is more than a broken website. The website was just the tip of the iceberg and as the full implementation of Obamacare continues to roll out.” In 2018, his website now reads: “Mike believes that Southern Illinoisans should have the right to make their own health care choices. That’s why he supports allowing businesses and associations to pull together their health plans to obtain larger health care premium discounts from major health insurers.”
Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-ME) doesn’t make explicit reference to “Obamacare” or the “ACA” in the healthcare portion of his 2018 website. But in 2016, the top of the healthcare section read: “End Obamacare and Replace with Free Market Solution to Improve Health Care.”
None of the aforementioned campaigns returned requests for comment from The Daily Beast. And some endangered Republicans have not made any adjustments from prior campaigns when it comes to the language used on their websites to describe Obamacare.
Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY), who has made fantastical claims, such as suggesting that the Deep State was responsible for a pricey dining set purchased by HUD Secretary Ben Carson, has the same statement about Obamacare on her current site that she had during her first successful bid for Congress in 2016.
“Claudia opposes Obamacare and knows how devastating it has been for families and small businesses in New York—it isn’t working,” both versions of the site read.
UPDATE: The full list of House members who have made alterations to their website include the following. Reps. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), Keith Rothfus (R-PA), John Faso (R-NY), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Steve Knight (R-CA), Mike Coffman (R-CO), Mimi Walters (R-CA), Peter Roskam (R-IL), Mike Bost (R-IL), Andy Barr (R-KY), Bruce Poliquin (R-ME), Mike Bishop (R-MI), Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), Leonard Lance (R-NJ), John Culberson (R-TX), Scott Taylor (R-VA), Mike Kelly (R-PA), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Jack Bergman (R-MI) and Fred Upton (R-MI).
An earlier version of this piece noted that Rep. Curbelo's website had dropped mention of Obamacare. His campaign reached out to say that the reason the healthcare section of the website wasn't there was because the website didn't load promptly. On Friday, the health care section was there again with language that appeared to be written from when Obama was president.