Republican members of Congress from districts won by Hillary Clinton were caught between a rock and a hard place Thursday afternoon as the vote for the American Health Care Act neared: Should they buck their party or risk angering their constituents?
Representative John Culberson, whose west Houston 7th District is one of the wealthiest in Texas, decided to fall in line and vote yes. Hillary Clinton won the 7th by about 1.5 points in November.
Needing 216 votes, the bill passed by a razor-thin 217-212 margin. Of the 23 Republicans in Clinton-won districts, 14 voted for the AHCA, which aims to repeal the Affordable Care Act, passed under President Barack Obama in 2010. Nine Republicans in Clinton-won districts bucked their party, including Will Hurd, who represents a district along the Texas-Mexico border. But not Culberson.
In a statement shortly after the vote, the National Republican Congressional Committee praised Culberson for sticking with his Republican politics.
“While Democrats fight desperately to keep the failed status quo in place, John Culberson is moving forward with a plan to improve access to health care and lower costs for Texas families," spokesman Jack Pandol said. "We thank Culberson for keeping his promise to protect families in his district from Obamacare’s crushing effects.”
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What exactly those "crushing effects" are the NRCC did not say. Democrats have framed the AHCA as a tax cut for the wealthy disguised as a health care bill, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated an earlier version of the bill would throw more than 20 million Americans off of their health care. (House Speaker Paul Ryan scheduled a vote on the revised AHCA before the CBO could score it.)
The vote could come back to haunt Culberson. Earlier on Thursday, the Houston Chronicle reported that at least six Democrats plan to challenge Culberson for the seat he has held since 2000. Ever since George H.W. Bush captured the seat in 1966, the GOP has held it, but Democrats are salivating at the prospect of flipping it.
A president's party usually loses seats in Congress in midterm elections. If the AHCA, which is unpopular with voters, becomes law, it could spell trouble for Culberson's re-election hopes.
The bill now heads to the Senate, where prospects of passage remain uncertain.