LIANE HANSEN, host:
As health care legislation emerges from the last of the House and Senate committees this week, the White House is soliciting support from some unlikely allies - Republicans. In recent days, such high-profile Republicans as California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist have come out in support of reform. The administration hopes this will help win over moderates in Congress. NPR's Andrea Seabrook has more.
ANDREA SEABROOK: The former majority of the Senate, Republican Bill Frist, said that if he were in Congress now he'd take the heat and vote for health care reform. Here he is on CNN…
Senator BILL FRIST (Republican, Tennessee, Former Senate Majority Leader): I'm coming out very strongly in support of what's going on in the Senate Finance Committee. It's bipartisan. I hope that it ends up being bipartisan, so we're on the way there.
SEABROOK: Then there's Mark McClellan. He ran Medicare under President George W. Bush.
Mr. MARK MCCLELLAN (Former Medicare Administrator): Congress needs to act. The health care issues facing this country are both major and urgent. We have a real opportunity now to make some progress. My hope is that we'll take advantage of those opportunities.
SEABROOK: And here's another one: Republican Bob Dole, another former Senate majority leader.
Senator BOB DOLE (Republican, Kansas, Former Senate Majority Leader): I think we need health care reform and we need it now. We don't need it four or five years from now.
SEABROOK: Dole spoke to NPR's political editor Ken Rudin a few weeks ago and his stance has only gotten stronger since: that the Republican minority in Congress needs to be more flexible. He told the Kansas City Star, quote, "I don't want the Republicans putting up a no sign and saying we're not open for business."
And there are more Republicans coming out - some after being nudged by the Obama administration: California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Tennessee Senator Howard Baker, another past majority leader, and Bush administration health and human services secretary, Tommy Thompson. He signed on to a joint statement with former House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt that says: Failure to reach an agreement on health reform this year is not an acceptable option.
So, is all this pressure from Republicans outside Congress affecting Republicans inside Congress?
Representative DARRELL ISSA (Republican, California): Not a bit. Not a bit.
Representative MARK KIRK (Republican, Illinois): No, exactly the opposite.
Representative JEFF FLAKE (Republican, Arizona): No.
SEABROOK: That's the answer from California's Darrell Issa, Illinois' Mark Kirk, and Arizona's Jeff Flake.
Rep. FLAKE: It's like endorsements in a congressional race. They're usually overrated.
SEABROOK: Flake says what's going on here is an obvious political tactic by the Obama administration.
Rep. FLAKE: They'll always go after people to try to get support and we expect that. But I can't see it affecting many votes here.
SEABROOK: And many congressional Republicans point out, if you look closely at all those endorsements, they're actually pretty vague. Frist, for example, is urging Congress to pass a bill after some changes are made. And California's Darrell Issa says Schwarzenegger's support isn't unconditional either.
Rep. ISSA: My governor is not saying sign H.R. 3200 or vote for it and nothing close to it.
SEABROOK: H.R. 3200 being the number of the bill expected to come before the House. But Issa does acknowledge the main message of all those Republicans outside the capitol - that there is a big opportunity here that should not be wasted.
Rep. ISSA: Yes, they do want us to reach a compromise on those things, which we can compromise on, which would lower the cost of health care and increase availability and portability. And Republicans, almost to a person, are very much in favor of that, including myself.
SEABROOK: The problem is all that other stuff - the health care reforms the majority Democrats want to enact. So, whether rank-and-file Republicans ultimately vote yay or nay, as Bob Dole says, it's probably going to be the toughest vote they'll cast in their congressional career.
Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.
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