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Cornyn in Health-Care Wonderland: Curiouser and Curiouser

by Published on

Health reform appears to have plunged Texas’ junior senator straight down the rabbit hole.

Over the last three weeks, “Big Bad John” Cornyn has called on his fellow Republicans to campaign on repeal—then on “repeal and replace”—then on a partial repeal, while keeping the popular parts intact—then on a full repeal, again—and finally, yesterday, he told them the way to win in November was to run as the party that supported key elements of health-care reform, despite opposing it.

Confused? Not half as confused as poor dear Cornyn—or the folks who look to him for a campaign message. Cornyn occupies a key political position as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, making him the most listened-to Texan in Washington in these post-Bush days. Trouble is, when it comes to the GOP’s strategy for responding to the passage of ObamaCare, no sane person can figure out what in the heck he’s saying. He’s become the most visible symbol of Republican disorientation as they try to conjure up a new strategy now that a simple “No” has failed them miserably.

It’s far beyond my limited capacities to explain Cornyn’s head-spinning contradictions. So let me offer a timeline for you, and a challenge: You figure it out!

March 8: Run on Repeal

“Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said in a press briefing at the Ronald Reagan Republican Center today that … his candidates in competitive races from California to Florida ‘should and will run on’ repealing the [health-care] legislation.”

March 24: Keep Some, Repeal Some
“In a brief chat with the Huffington Post on Tuesday, National Republican Senatorial Committee chair John Cornyn (R-Tex.) implicitly acknowledged that Republicans are content with allowing some elements of Obama’s reform into law. And they’d generally ignore those elements when taking the fight to their Democrat opponents as November approaches.
“‘There is non-controversial stuff here like the preexisting conditions exclusion and those sorts of things,’ the Texas Republican said. ‘Now we are not interested in repealing that. And that is frankly a distraction.'”

March 24: Repeal and Replace

Cornyn on Twitter: “Repeal and Replace!”

March 25: I Said, “Repeal”!
Cornyn writes on The National Review site:
“This week, President Obama signed into law a health-care bill that was rushed through the Senate on Christmas Eve, pushed through the House of Representatives near midnight on Sunday, and which has been overwhelmingly rejected by the American people. Democrats are now celebrating their great victory, but it will be short lived. This health-care bill will be repealed; it’s not a question of ‘if,’ but ‘when.’

“Earlier this week, a blog post generated confusion over my position on what to do next. Actions speak louder than words, however, so yesterday I signed on as a co-sponsor to a bill that is a straightforward repeal of what the president signed on Tuesday. That should clarify my position.”

March 30: Republicans Heart Health Reform
Cornyn issues an NRSC strategy memo that conspicuously avoids using the word “repeal,” while advising Republican candidates to claim that key aspects of health care were their idea in the first place—and run on a pro-reform message:
“You and I must remind Americans of that, because our Democrat opponents will use every tool at their disposal to distort our record and our ideas. On the trail, it’s critical that we remind people of the fact that it was Republicans who fought to force insurance companies to compete with one another over state lines for Americans’ business. It was Republicans who fought to reform the junk lawsuits that raise medical costs and lower quality by forcing doctors to practice ‘defensive medicine.’ It was Republicans who fought for policies that protected Americans with preexisting conditions and it was Republicans who proposed health care reforms that didn’t cut Medicare by $500 billion and raise Americans’ taxes by $400 million.”

UPDATE: Brad Watson at WFAA-TV alerted me to another twist in the Cornyn plot. On March 28, Watson and Gromer Jeffers asked Cornyn some tough questions on health care on Inside Texas Politics and got something slightly different out of the senator: repeal, then reform. Check it out here.