- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 27, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - U.S. Sen. Rob Portman announced his opposition to the current Senate health care bill on Tuesday, after days of political pummeling that ended with the vote delayed.

The Ohio Republican issued his statement only after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delayed a vote on the bill.

Portman was among senators who faced intense pressure back home to oppose the measure. He was subjected to baseball game flyovers, demonstrations, television ads and a verbal onslaught by GOP Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who views the bill’s Medicaid cuts as harmful to America’s most vulnerable citizens.

Portman said in a statement that he’s repeatedly said the Affordable Care Act, often called “Obamacare,” wasn’t working.

“I am committed to creating a better health care system that lowers the cost of coverage, provides access to quality care, and protects the most vulnerable in our society,” he said in a statement. “The Senate draft before us includes some promising changes to reduce premiums in the individual insurance market, but I continue to have real concerns about the Medicaid policies in this bill, especially those that impact drug treatment at a time when Ohio is facing an opioid epidemic.”

Vice President Mike Pence planned to push back Wednesday with a visit to Cleveland in support of the bill. That caught Portman, who represents a closely divided battleground state, in the crosshairs of the high-stakes intraparty fight.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had wanted to bring the bill to a vote before the July 4th recess but he announced Tuesday afternoon he would delay a vote while GOP leadership works toward getting enough votes.

Kasich directed pointed comments against the bill during a joint appearance in Washington on Tuesday with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, calling it “unacceptable.”

“No one should think that I have any joy in being able to work against the leadership of my own party on this legislation,” Kasich said.

“But maybe JFK said it best: Sometimes my party asks too much,” the governor said in paraphrasing the late president.

Kasich said he’s shared his concerns with Portman “a million times.”

“I’ve told him how important I think all this is,” Kasich said. “I don’t cast his vote. I don’t get any sense.”

UltraViolet, a women’s advocacy organization, held a protest vigil Portman’s Cleveland office Tuesday. The group also flew a banner over Friday night’s Cleveland Indians game reading: “Senator Portman: Trumpcare Hurts Women.”

Cleveland resident Juanita Brent, 32, was among the protesters Tuesday. She said she’s called Portman’s office once a day, every day since January, worried that he would be swayed by the Trump administration to cut health spending.

“Health care is a human issue,” she said. “We’re all one decision away from not having a job, being unemployed, or disabled, or sick, and losing your health care.”

Brent, who carried a sign bearing Portman’s number, said she was protesting the new health care bill because her cousin went bankrupt after getting cancer because she couldn’t afford her medical bills.

Portman also was targeted in a seven-figure broadcast and digital ad buy by the Association for Community Affiliated Plans, a trade association for Medicaid-affiliated health plans that contended the Senate plan jeopardized 87,000 Ohio jobs.

Labor unions also upped the temperature on Portman, saying at a Statehouse rally that he was “playing games” with health care.

In their defense of the bill, Pence and President Donald Trump have been sure to feature Ohio residents in a series of events featuring “victims” of the Obamacare law targeted by congressional health care changes.

Associated Press writer Dake Kang in Cleveland contributed to this report.

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