STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Yet another Republican health care plan fell through in less than a day. After a Senate replacement for the Affordable Care Act died for lack of Republican support, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans would vote on repeal with no replacement for Obamacare. Three Republicans have already said no, enough to doom the idea since all Democrats are opposed. Our next guest wants to defeat Republicans who fail to vote for repeal.
Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has promised to, quote, "identify recruit and fund" conservative challengers to them. He's with the political action committee called the Senate Conservatives Fund now, and he's on the line from his home in Virginia. Mr. Cuccinelli, welcome to the program.
KEN CUCCINELLI: Good morning.
INSKEEP: Well, what do you make of this situation? It actually seems like there's a lot of Senate Republicans uneasy with any repeal or replacement plan that's out there.
CUCCINELLI: Well, of course, when the 2015 repeal - which is not a complete repeal, admittedly - vote took place, 48 of the 49 Republicans currently in the Senate voted for it. So...
INSKEEP: Back when they knew that President Obama would veto it, and it would never actually happen.
CUCCINELLI: Well, that's exactly right. And it becomes a question of what do you believe, and do you have integrity? And for the Senate Conservatives Fund, you know, we have opposed incumbents in the past and - including Mitch McConnell - with Matt Bevin, who lost that race and went on to become the governor of Kentucky.
And, you know, when we can identify high-quality conservative opponents to folks who flip on this - now, and remember, if you go back and look at the things these folks have said over the last two years alone and when they were making that vote in 2015, this was very powerful statements. There was very little mealymouthedness (ph) about their commitment to this. And many of them have been promising this for seven years. So it's time to deliver.
INSKEEP: Who's at the top of your list to target then?
CUCCINELLI: Well, I wouldn't say so much the top of the list because it is determined, in part, by the opponents they draw. What is the quality of the candidates who come out to take them on? But when you've got people who flip on a vote that is so important to not just the conservative base but the entire Republican base, this one vote can set up an election. And we're determined to help, monetarily, the conservative opponents of folks like the three you've seen so far.
We'll take - Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is a good example, even though she's the farthest away. Certainly, there's plenty of enthusiasm in Alaska, among conservatives and libertarians, to remove her the next time she's up. And when we have gotten into races in the past, our support has - in a primary and a general election - has typically been worth seven figures to a candidate in terms of donation.
INSKEEP: You said farthest away. Of course we don't mean physically. We mean in terms of how many years away in the future.
CUCCINELLI: (Laugher) Right, 2022.
INSKEEP: Although, Alaska's far away from Washington.
CUCCINELLI: But I use her as an example because she is someone for whom primary opponents have cropped up in the past. And again, if the situation, a one-on-one-type situation arose with a good opponent for her or others - and this is part of the value of having the vote - is who's - to see who's going to flip and then to start prioritizing them.
INSKEEP: Mr. Cuccinelli, I just want to ask about the practicalities of this. We were just the other day in a rural county that voted 77 percent for Donald Trump in Pennsylvania. And there's a big community hospital that 80 percent of the patients - 80 percent in this conservative area - depend on Medicare or Medicaid. And it's a big deal to that rural hospital and a Trump-voting area, a very conservative area, a big deal what happens with Medicaid. Is it possible that some lawmakers, whatever their rhetoric has been, are actually trying to protect their constituents from devastating cuts by being reluctant to sign on to what they see as a really bad replacement or no replacement?
CUCCINELLI: Well, of course that's what you're going to hear. But that isn't what you heard from them two years ago, five years ago, seven years ago. And there is, again, a question of simple honesty and integrity and doing what you said. Part of the whole swamp mentality is exactly the kind of situation we're dealing with. It is this flip-flop that seems to indicate that they never intended what they said for seven years.
INSKEEP: Thanks very much. That's Ken Cuccinelli, the former attorney general of Virginia, now with a political action committee that is ready to target Republicans who fail to vote to repeal Obamacare.
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