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During a meeting of Republican senators and President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday, Sen. Dean Heller tried to lighten the mood.
The Nevada senator made reference to ads from a pro-Trump nonprofit group attacking him for opposing the Senate GOP’s healthcare bill. He joked, according to The Washington Post, that the ads should have used his real face instead of actor Matt Damon.
While a few members of the meeting laughed, the moment also offers a crystallization of Trump’s approach to passing the Senate healthcare bill.
Heller is up for reelection in 2018 in a state that Hillary Clinton won in the presidential election. The popular governor of the state, Brian Sandoval, has opposed the Senate healthcare bill, and the cuts to the state’s Medicaid program would be among the worst in the country.
Given this political reality, Heller came out strong against the bill last Friday.
Within days, the pro-Trump group, America First Policies, made ads attacking Heller for his position and pressuring him to support the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was not pleased with the ads, according to the Post, and called White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to express his displeasure.
The disconnect over Heller wasn’t the only misstep for which the White House has been criticized during the run-up to McConnell delaying a vote on the bill until after the week-long July 4 recess.
Multiple accounts have suggested Trump did not have a solid grasp of the basics of the Senate GOP’s bill during the meeting, and some Republican senators, aides, and lobbyists have questioned the amount of influence Trump has on the process.
The White House has also been publicly touting that the bill does not cut Medicaid – to little avail, since moderate GOP senators have cited the cut to future spending growth as a major reason to oppose the bill. Trump himself tweeted the claim on Wednesday night.
The attacks on Heller, however, seem to be a key point of discomfort for Republican senators concerned about the political cost of voting for a bill that the Congressional Budget Office projected would leave 22 million more Americans without insurance in 2026 than under the current system.