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Ohio's GOP governor says Obamacare is helping people, then rapidly retreats

Gov. John Kasich (R-OH)
Gov. John Kasich (R-OH)
JD Pooley / Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

On Monday, Governor John Kasich of Ohio appeared, for a few brief hours, to have lavishly praised  Obamacare , characterized opposition to it as "ideological," and admitted it won't be repealed. But a few hours later, his office issued a clarification, and said Kasich was referring to only part of Obamacare. Here's how Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of the Associated Press wrote up Kasich's original comments, which were made to him on the campaign trail:

Kasich doesn't think the Affordable Care Act will be repealed, even if Republicans win a Senate majority and consolidate their hold on the House in next month's election. "That's not gonna happen," Kasich told The Associated Press during a recent re-election campaign swing. "The opposition to it was really either political or ideological," the Republican governor added. "I don't think that holds water against real flesh and blood, and real improvements in people's lives."

Soon afterward, a Kasich staffer told Henry Gomez of that Kasich's praise was only intended to refer to the law's Medicaid expansion, and that Kasich still wants to repeal and replace the health law as a whole. A few hours later, Kasich reaffirmed this in a tweet.

But even if Kasich did just intend to refer to the Medicaid expansion — which he has long backed — that expansion is a key part of Obamacare. If you say it's brought "real improvements in people's lives," that means Obamacare has done that.

That's why Kasich's rhetoric all along has been so dangerous to the economic conservatives adamantly opposed to the law altogether. As Ezra Klein wrote, conservative media is overwhelmingly still perpetuating a narrative that Obamacare is failing miserably. Kasich, on the other hand, says that a major part of it has helped people — and particularly the people most in need of help.

Back in 2010, while running for governor, Kasich characterized himself as an opponent of the health law. "Obamacare must be blocked. We cannot tolerate a government takeover of our health care system," he said in a statement posted on his campaign website.

But once elected, and after the Supreme Court upheld most of the law, Kasich embraced Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid in what the Wall Street Journal called "an openly religious fervor." Indeed, Kasich led a contentious effort to implement it over objections from his own party, lobbying his state's reluctant conservative legislature and arguing that the expansion was necessary to help the poor:

KASICH: "The most-important thing for this legislature to think about: Put yourself in somebody else's shoes. Put yourself in the shoes of a mother and a father of an adult child that is struggling. Walk in somebody else's moccasins. Understand that poverty is real. I had a conversation with one of the members of the legislature the other day. I said, ‘I respect the fact that you believe in small government. I do, too. I also know that you're a person of faith. ‘Now, when you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he's probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor. You better have a good answer.'  "

When the legislature refused to expand Medicaid, Kasich decided to bypass them, implementing the Medicaid expansion with only the authority of a special legislative panel. Conservative activists sued, calling Kasich's maneuver illegal, but the Ohio Supreme Court upheld it last December in a 4-3 decision, and Medicaid was expanded in Ohio.

Kasich is on his way to a landslide reelection, and has sometimes been mentioned as a potential 2016 contender. If he does run, his praise of Obamacare seems somewhat out of step with his current rivals, and the beliefs of activists and interest groups pushing hard-line fiscal conservatism. But it does resemble then-Texas Governor George W. Bush's opposition, in 1999, to a House GOP bill he said would "balance their budget on the backs of the poor."

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