When the House passed the American Health Care Act, the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, it was seen as a big win for Republican unity — but maybe no longer.
On Tuesday, Politico reported that Rep. Tom MacArthur of New Jersey, the moderate half of the negotiating duo that got the AHCA over the finish line in the House, said he will resign from his post as the co-chair of the Tuesday Group — the center-right faction of the Republican conference. His move is a clear sign of how fractured the majority party remains, even after a perceived victory on health care.
In explaining his decision to step down, MacArthur cited irreconcilable differences within his party.
"You can’t lead people where they don’t want to go," MacArthur said in an interview with Politico Tuesday. "I think some people in the group just have a different view of what governing is."
While he will still remain a member of the group, MacArthur was critical of the members unwilling to negotiate with the various factions of the party.
"Clearly, our group is divided. Many in the Tuesday Group are eager to live up to our ideal of being problem-solvers, while others seem unwilling to compromise," MacArthur told the Tuesday Group, according to prepared remarks obtained by Politico.
Ever since MacArthur started working with conservatives, the moderates have had it out for him
MacArthur, a former insurance executive, was a relatively unknown name in Congress until the AHCA — where he was possibly the only member willing to huddle with the conservatives to reach some kind of deal on health care.
His amendment with Rep. Mark Meadows, the chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus was one of the first steps in making the AHCA passable in the House, but it came as a clear cost.
While MacArthur repeatedly told reporters that he had been negotiating only as an individual lawmaker, not as the co-chair of the Tuesday Group, members of his moderate Republican group were openly upset that he broke ranks with their voting block to work with hardline conservatives. He had effectively backed them into voting for a more conservative bill in the name of party unity.
News of the deal had members of the Tuesday Group decrying MacArthur, claiming he “overstepped his bounds” and calling for him to step down as co-chair.
"There is dissension in the ranks," one Tuesday Group member told the Hill in early May. "The Tuesday Group, to me, is a group of concerned, like-minded representatives who discuss issues, not negotiate positions on behalf of the group, but have meetings on Tuesday and have lunch and discuss the pending issues of the day."
With MacArthur’s announcement, it seems their demands proved fruitful.
Furthermore, this is yet another sign that the Republican health bill is on shaky ground, lacks cohesive party support, and is, in fact, the oppose of the symbol of Republican unity that leadership hoped to project.
That’s bad news for Republicans. With a packed and difficult agenda ahead — health care, tax reform, and the budget — continued inter-party turmoil means congressional Republicans are either going to have to do a lot of soul searching and come together, or else they will encounter the same drama that engulfed the AHCA on every other major priority item to come.