- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Democrats pivoted Tuesday from investigation and impeachment to “kitchen table pocketbook issues,” acknowledging that the special counsel’s report took from them a line of attack but saying President Trump gave them a new opening this week to go back to talking about Obamacare.

Liberal pressure groups said Mr. Trump should still face legal consequences, but most Democratic representatives on Capitol Hill said Robert Mueller’s finding of no conspiracy to subvert the 2016 presidential election gives their party an opportunity to talk about issues voters care about.

“The conversation has now shifted already, in a day, to health care, and Republicans know they’re in trouble,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

Democrats hurtled into their new era by taunting the Trump administration’s refusal late Monday to defend any part of the 2010 health care law.

The Justice Department took the stance that if the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate penalty is gone, then the rest of the law must fall.

Democrats said voters are looking to strengthen, not weaken, Obamacare.

House Democrats unfurled a series of bills to make the program more generous. They also plan to take action this week on legislation to ensure women are given equal pay for performing the same jobs as men while barring employers from seeking a job candidate’s previous salary data.

Those are the issues that carried the party to victory in November, said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem S. Jeffries, and they are what Democrats need to focus on now.

“We didn’t run on impeachment, we didn’t win the House of Representatives on impeachment, we’re not focused on impeachment,” the New York Democrat said. “We’re going to continue to focus on the issues that are of importance to the American people.”

Voters in New York said that change in tune is warranted.

“The bombshell we’ve all been anticipating has fallen flat. It’s time for the Democrats to back off and switch tactics,” said Derek Duhon, a 34-year-old information technology technician from New York.

Democrats and Republicans have been holding internal debates over the past two days over how to respond to Mr. Mueller’s findings, as explained in a four-page summary from Attorney General William P. Barr.

Mr. Barr said the special counsel found no evidence that Trump campaign figures conspired with Russia and didn’t find enough evidence to bring an obstruction of justice case against the president.

For Republicans, the debate is whether to go back and investigate what Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called “the other side” — decisions made by Obama administration figures to target Mr. Trump for investigation.

The president said he wants action.

“This should never happen to a president again. We can’t allow that to take place,” he told reporters.

Other Republicans say Mr. Trump should use the end of the Mueller investigation as a chance to pivot to his agenda and to seek areas of cooperation with Congress where possible.

Among Democrats, Mr. Jeffries said the overwhelming sentiment is that they should look beyond the Mueller report.

He pointed out that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, shot down impeachment talk weeks ago and that most of her rank and file embraced that sentiment. He touted early hearings on health care costs and H.R. 1, the Democrats’ bill to promote voter access and clean up the campaign finance system.

“Nowhere in the ‘For the People’ agenda does it talk about Russia,” said Mr. Jeffries, name-checking the Democrats’ 2018 platform. “Nowhere in the ‘For the People’ agenda does it talk about collusion. Nowhere in the ‘For the People’ agenda does it talk about obstruction of justice.”

Some Democratic voters still want further investigation of Mr. Trump, even after the collusion angle hit a dead end.

“I think it is kind of fruitless to continue the Russia collusion hunt, but I want them to continue to hold Trump accountable in other respects,” said Isabel Zeitz-Moskin, 26, a civil rights organizer who lives in Mr. Jeffries’ district.

Democrats are still fishing for investigations. The House Judiciary Committee requested documents from more than 80 people and entities in Mr. Trump’s orbit, and investigations have been opened into matters such as immigration policy and negotiations with Russia.

But calls for a political palate cleanser appeared to have been met with the Justice Department’s health care move Monday.

The department said it won’t defend the Affordable Care Act from a December district court ruling that Congress’ decision to gut the “individual mandate” for health insurance invalidated the entire law.

Justice Department attorneys argued last fall that the lack of a mandate penalty should threaten only the 2010 law’s consumer protections for sicker Americans.

Now it’s “determined that the district court’s comprehensive opinion came to the correct conclusion and will support it on appeal,” department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said.

Key insurer and hospital groups were furious, saying the administration was doubling down on a bad ruling from the lower court.

The debate is comfortable territory for Democrats, who retook the House in part by focusing on Mr. Trump’s attacks on Obamacare and the state-driven lawsuit.

“The Trump position ties a two-year anchor around the neck of every Republican,” Mr. Schumer said. “Yet again, they will be forced to defend the indefensible.”

Mr. Trump shrugged off the outcry.

“The Republican Party will soon be known as the party of health care,” he said. “You watch.”

His latest budget says there are better ways to insure Americans, such as block grants that allow states to spend federal health care dollars as they see fit.

But Democrats say Republicans failed to replace Obamacare with a better plan, so their latest moves in court imperil coverage that millions of Americans gained through the 2010 law — including its vast expansion of Medicaid in dozens of states.

“This move by the Trump administration to take away health care will prove far more detrimental to the administration and the Republican Party than any gains they might have made by the issuance of Mr. Barr’s letter,” Mr. Schumer said. “Mark my words. It’s far more important to the American people.”

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