Pro-Trump group drops $3M for House backers of AHCA

In politics more than anywhere else, a friend in need has to first be a friend indeed to get a boost. Several House Republicans who went to bat for the American Health Care Act (AHCA) in March now find themselves under fire for their loyalty to Paul Ryan and Donald Trump as the effort to repeal ObamaCare remains stalled. A group organized by former Trump campaign staffers will repay that loyalty with $3 million in advertising — as much of a repayment for their risk as a reminder of risk to those who don’t get on board the AHCA effort soon, according to the Washington Post:

Leaders of America First Policies, a pro-Trump nonprofit outfit, told The Washington Post on Sunday that it is starting a $3 million advertising campaign to bolster a dozen House Republicans who publicly backed the health-care proposal that has stalled on Capitol Hill.

In a phone call, the Trump campaign veterans who run the organization described the expenditure as a gesture of appreciation to Trump’s friends in the chamber as well as a way to encourage other House Republicans to get behind the effort to revive health-care legislation.

To rely on another old saying, you usually attract more flies with honey than vinegar. Robert Costa reports that the LAFP hasn’t dispensed with the latter entirely, however. The main obstacle for the AHCA is the House Freedom Caucus, which has blocked the path to the simple majority required by the House to pass the repeal that Trump has backed. So far, LAFP has a hands-off policy toward the conservative caucus, but that may not last forever:

America First Policies leaders mostly acknowledged that reality and said several times on the call that they could target critics of the health-care plan at some point. But for the moment, they said they’re trying to show House Republicans that there are benefits to standing with Trump on tricky issues, in particular on health care.

“We’re starting positive, but all options are on the table,” one adviser said.

This provides yet another reminder of the White House’s all-in commitment to the AHCA. Despite the fractious reception within the GOP caucus — or maybe because of it — Donald Trump has dug in his heels and made this into a you’re-with-us-or-you’re-against-us issue on Capitol Hill. Freedom Caucus members have been careful not to criticize either Trump or Ryan publicly, preferring to frame their opposition as a kind of loyal rescue operation, but Trump’s not backing away from it at all.

Interestingly, one name not on Costa’s list of LAFP beneficiaries is Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon. His OR-02 district encompasses most of the state and has a strong Republican advantage, with a Cook index of R+11, so perhaps they’re less concerned about his political viability in 2018. However, as chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Walden has been key to the AHCA’s fortunes, and he’s presently taking a beating back home over it:

It didn’t matter that Rep. Greg Walden was on a first-name basis with many of the roughly 800 attendees. Or that Democrats like Gov. Kate Brown call him congenial and bright. Or that Walden was just re-elected to a 10th House term with 72 percent of the vote in a safely Republican eastern Oregon district. Or that he is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Walden, 60, encountered the same angry buzz saw at town meetings last week that has greeted his Republican colleagues at similar sessions and prompted others to not even bother holding them. President Donald Trump and his party’s policies on health care, immigration, the environment, the arts and Syria have whipped up Democratic voters and liberal organizers while dividing Republicans as well, and they’re letting GOP lawmakers know it. …

A woman said, “We are absolutely disgusted that you led a committee to take away” peoples’ health care, before loud cheers drowned her out.

“I care about health care. I know you don’t think that,” an exasperated Walden said at one point.

If the LAFP has to rescue incumbents from R+11 districts, of course, then we’re looking at a disaster next year — but that’s not going to be the case. Right now, progressive groups are organizing heavily to stack the audiences in these townhalls and trying to embarrass Republicans into retreat. The LAFP is signaling that support will be around when it counts, for those who backed Republican leadership, anyway. Others might find themselves more on their own at that point.