That theory just got burned to the ground this week along with possibly Dean Heller's career as the White House has now declared open season on his head.
A new campaign by top White House allies targeting the GOP’s most vulnerable senator over health care sends a loud message to those resistant to the Trump agenda: We’re coming after you.
America First Policies, a White House-backed outside group led by the president’s top campaign advisers, has launched a $1 million attack against Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, who on Friday announced that he opposed the Senate’s recently unveiled Obamacare repeal plan.
That included a Twitter and digital ad campaign targeting the senator, including a video that accuses him of “standing with” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a reviled figure in conservative circles.
“Unacceptable,” the video says. “If you’re opposed to this bill, we’re opposed to you.”
America First Policies is set to expand its campaign early this week with TV ads that will go after the Nevada senator.
The offensive aims both to punish Heller and to sway his vote, and it is a stunning act of political retaliation against a member of the president’s own party — one who faces a perilous path to reelection in 2018. Senior Republicans, many of whom are deeply worried about Heller’s political standing and increasingly nervous about the midterms, were shocked and spent the weekend measuring the possible fallout.
It's one thing to say "Sorry Dean, nobody's getting a pass on this one, we need a united vote" and quite another thing to spend a million bucks to take out ads going after somebody in your own party. I'm trying to imagine the Obama White House doing this to Joe Manchin or something and I just can't. It's ludicrous.
But the cold calculus is there: there are a lot more vulnerable Dems in 2018 in red states (ten of them!) then there are blue state Republicans, which currently consists solely of Dean Heller. Losing Heller at this point is a calculated risk to make sure there are no surprises on this Senate bill vote. I guess the White House figures there will still be a net gain of Senate Republicans in 2018 even if Heller loses, and frankly they're probably correct.
Also, it's still early enough to primary Heller off the island. Former Utah GOP Sen. Bob Bennett only realized how awful the Trump GOP was on his deathbed last year after the Tea Party primaried him out of a career in 2010. Heller's only finding out now that loyalty to Dear Leader or Else is the name of the game.
But that leaves the question of "What about the other GOP senators who are holding out?" Maine's Susan Collins, Wisconsin's Ron Johnson, and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski have all come out against the bill as too cruel, and Utah's Mike Lee, Texas's Ted Cruz and my local blockhead Rand Paul have come out saying the bill is not cruel enough. None of those senators face re-election in 2018, so ads aren't going to matter.
But cold hard cash certainly will. It's time for the "Let's Make A Deal" phase of the Senate GOP healthcare bill!
White House and Capitol Hill officials are exploring potential deals to divvy up billions of dollars to individual senators’ priorities in a wide-ranging bid to secure votes for the imperiled GOP health care bill.
A Congressional Budget office score that projected 22 million fewer Americans would have insurance under the plan sent some members fleeing Monday and left the bill in jeopardy of failing to have enough votes to even be called to the Senate floor this week.
But Republicans in the White House and in Congress were pleasantly surprised that the bill included more savings than they expected — and are trying to figure out if they can dole it out for votes.
The Senate has about $188 billion to play with.
Among the possible changes: More spending for health savings accounts to appease conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, according to three people familiar with the matter, and some additional Medicaid and opioid spending for moderates.
"We are still working with leadership to change the base bill," a Lee aide said.
Lee, Cruz and others on the right have been looking to wipe out as much of Obamacare as possible and replace it with health savings accounts, group plans and selling insurance across state lines, among other ideas. It’s not clear if the Senate parliamentarian would allow all of those proposals through under strict reconciliation rules. And Lee will likely require far more dramatic changes to be won over.
Meanwhile, senators from Medicaid expansion states huddled after the CBO score revealed the nearly $200 billion in savings to see if they could get GOP leaders to put more money into Medicaid and to thwart drug addiction. Those modifications may take place on the Senate floor, but Republicans are divided on how to use the money.
Let's keep in mind that this "windfall in savings" of nearly $200 billion comes from throwing tens of millions of people off Medicaid coverage. Mitch McConnell is then going to turn around and take that money and try to bribe GOP senators with it.
That's how Republicans operate.