Democrats Think Prioritizing Health Care Will Give Them Wins In 2020 : The NPR Politics Podcast Hoping to build on the party's success in 2018, the Democratic Party will take aim at federal challengers who want to repeal Obamacare and state candidates who resist Medicare expansion.

Plus, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds that two-thirds of Americans do not expect their daily lives to return to normal for at least six months.

This episode: White House correspondent Tamara Keith, congressional correspondent Susan Davis, and senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro.

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Democrats Think Prioritizing Health Care Will Give Them Wins In 2020

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Democrats Think Prioritizing Health Care Will Give Them Wins In 2020

Democrats Think Prioritizing Health Care Will Give Them Wins In 2020

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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RABIA: Hey. This is Rabia (ph). And I'm an expat living in London. I just rode my bike 10 miles to a park in west London to meet someone I've been talking to for a month online. It's our first social distancing date and my first one ever. This podcast was recorded at...


2:12 p.m. on Wednesday, the 20 of May.

RABIA: Things may have changed by the time you hear it, but, hopefully, one of those is that I have a second date.


KEITH: Oh, that's sweet - love in the time of COVID.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: The things people do for love.

KEITH: Fingers crossed.



I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

KEITH: And we are going to talk about Sue's reporting on the Democratic Party deciding to put health care at the heart of their 2020 pitch. But first, Domenico, you've got a new poll out today from NPR, Marist and the PBS News Hour that shows us where the public is on the biggest health issue of all right now, which is the coronavirus.

MONTANARO: Yeah. You know, and people are pretty pessimistic about when they think life will return to normal. I mean, you have two-thirds of Americans - 65% - saying they don't expect that their daily lives are going to return to normal for at least six months. Some people say longer than that.

DAVIS: Six months from now is, like, the end of the year.

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, I think that people are looking, you know, forward. They're seeing that there's no vaccine. There's no - you know, there's no real proven treatment at this point. And it's a pretty scary time. And seeing how things are ballooning all over the world - I mean, the U.S. is approaching 100,000 deaths from coronavirus. You know, it's a thing that we are seeing, you know, a deep political divide happening, though, based on the, you know, reopening of the country and which party thinks that, you know, people should be getting out there more. And there's a real disconnect between public opinion and public policy.

KEITH: Right. So you say 65% of people don't expect their lives to get back to normal for the next six months. But when you open up the hood, Republicans and Democrats have very different ideas about when things might get back to some semblance of normal.

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, you have about 55% of Republicans who think that it's going to take six months or longer. But compare that to 78% of Democrats, 68% of independents, and you have a real split here. And, you know, it's not just on when people think things are going to get back to normal but also how concerned they are about a second wave of coronavirus happening.

You have three-quarters of people who are concerned or very concerned that a second wave of coronavirus is coming, especially given the fact that, you know, there really is no way to prevent that from happening without strict social distancing measures. And we've seen some states opening up where they're really not fitting into those Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that have been released.

DAVIS: You know, we've talked so much in this podcast over the years about political polarization. And, in some ways, though, I'm still sort of amazed at how quickly the pandemic seems to have fallen into these sort of familiar partisan divides because it is one thing that's happening to everybody. It's happening across socioeconomic. It happens to people of all parties, all races. Although, there is some racial disparity. But it hasn't been this unifying event. There was this moment where, I think, there was a minimal amount of rallying and togetherness. And it seems to have fallen to the wayside pretty quickly.

MONTANARO: Yeah. And I mean, just to highlight just how, you know, politically divided people are in those pretty familiar camps, the most concerned people with coronavirus becoming a second wave were Democrats, African Americans, women and Latinos, right? - seems like pretty strong pillars of the Democratic Party. The least likely to say that they were concerned or very concerned - Republicans, white men without college degrees, those in the silent or greatest generation and those who live in rural areas - sounds like the base of both parties.

KEITH: So, Sue, I want to turn to your reporting now. Democrats have been talking about health care for a long time. It was their No. 1 issue in the 2018 midterm elections. But yeah, your reporting finds that they are not done, that they are making a concerted effort to keep the focus on health care in 2020.

DAVIS: No. And I think, in some ways, this doesn't come as much of a surprise when you look at the successes that Democrats have had running on health care, most recently in the 2018 elections, where voters in that election said health care was their No. 1 issue. And it's an election year where Democrats made gains. They took over control of the House. And I think they're going to try to repeat that playbook. I think the pandemic and the feelings of Americans' attitudes around that pandemic - they see an opportunity here to only heighten that because for so many people, the pandemic has become a health care concern, not just because of the public health crisis that it presents but also think about when you look at the unemployment numbers. You know, we have over 36-some million Americans have filed for unemployment. Not all of them have lost their jobs entirely. But in this country, most people's health care also comes through their employment. So you have more and more Americans likely thinking about not just their health but their health care. And historically speaking, if that's what's driving you to vote in November, you are more likely than not going to pull the lever for the Democrat. And so Democrats, this week, across all of their campaign committees - from the DNC to the House and Senate campaign operations to their state legislative campaign committees, their governors' campaigns and states attorney generals - all of the official committee outfits put out one memo saying that they are going to make health care the cornerstone of all of their campaigns up and down the ballot.

KEITH: Is that normal? Like, is it normal for there to be that much unity within the party about what they're going to focus on?

DAVIS: I think on health care, probably yes. But I also think they're looking at the same polling we're all looking at. They're also looking at their own internal polling that is telling them that health care remains the No. 1 issue for voters. It's not necessarily that the pandemic changed that. It wasn't like health care was at the bottom of the list, and it's come to the top. It's always been sort of the one or two issue with the economy. But now, I think, it's just been sort of supercharged in this dynamic. And, frankly, the Republican Party and President Trump - they don't have great records on health care. There's a lot to run against.

And Cheri Bustos, who runs the House Democrats' campaign operation, said it's not just going to be about the policies. It's going to be about sort of the rhetoric of the president as well.

CHERI BUSTOS: You know, they are led by President Trump, who, just this week, talked about taking hydroxychloroquine when the medical evidence is clear that that is not what a person should be doing right now, especially somebody who is not hospitalized and not under constant physician care. And he's advocating that, bragging about that. You know, that's the leader of the party. You know, he talked about injecting bleach or Lysol. That's the leader of the party. And that is how they talk about health care.

DAVIS: Obviously, she's pointing to some of the more provocative statements that the president has made. They just see a lot of fodder there. This is sort of the stuff that Trump says that, I think, he either says, oh, I was being sarcastic, or it plays to the base. But I think they see these statements as things that they can use in political ads. These are statements that could alienate independent voters. You know, I mean, how many times can we say the base has rallied around the president? But there's a lot of people out there who haven't made up their mind. And they see the president on the issue of health care as a total liability.

KEITH: All right. We are going to take a quick break, and we will be right back with more.

And we're back. So, Sue, we have been sort of broadly talking about how in 2020, Democrats say they want to focus on health care. But I would like you to help us understand what that means in particular. Like, you know, the debates that the - in the primary that the Democratic candidates were having focused on universal health care, single payer, "Medicare for All." There were, like, all these fights about that. What is the message actually going to be?

DAVIS: That's a great question. And I think it's worth stating that there is still a debate inside the Democratic Party over the future of health care, whether you expand the Affordable Care Act or you go to more of a Medicare for All system. Now, granted, Joe Biden won the primary. And in some ways, it's been settled, at least for this election. But there is a big element of the Democratic Party who don't think that debate's settled. And that's sort of the internal debate that Democrats are still having. When it comes to the general election, I think you can see it play out pretty easily.

On the national level, I'm sure Joe Biden and the DNC and national Democrats are going to run against Trump and the Trump administration's efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, right? They're still in the court system. They're going to take it to - the Supreme Court could hear it this fall, right around the election, in which they're going to try to throw out the entire law. Now, imagine if they're successful. What does that look like? Pretty easy to run attack ads scaring people about losing their health care, especially when the president has not yet offered an alternative to what a Republican health plan would look like to cover the uninsured in this country.

There's a lot of fodder on health care because the debate over the ACA in particular has been sort of the defining political debate of the last decade. And if you're an incumbent, you have a very long voting record on these issues. And if you're not but you're a Republican candidate, you're almost certainly in lockstep behind the Trump administration's position on health care, which, to be perfectly honest, I can't really articulate what it is, except that the president has, in the past, promised to offer something phenomenal, in his words.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're going to produce phenomenal health care.

DAVIS: But almost a year ago, he first made his promises that they were going to put forward a plan.


TRUMP: And we already have the concept of the plan. And it'll be much better health care.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Don't you have to tell people what the plan is?

TRUMP: Yeah, well, we'll be announcing that in about two months, maybe less.

DAVIS: And it's still not out there.

MONTANARO: And look at the entirety of the system. I mean, you know, look at this broadly here. I mean, you've got tens of millions of people who've lost their jobs and, tied to that, their health care because we have employer-based health care in this country. And Democrats, especially progressives like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and others, have been saying, look; this demonstrates pretty clearly why this kind of system is broken when you've got 15% unemployment, when most experts think that's actually higher than that - the highest since the Great Depression. And you've got so many people without health insurance because of that. And you have an administration that has failed to subsidize the Obamacare exchanges, and people are unable to be able to buy health care in those exchanges for an affordable price.

KEITH: Well, and also, coronavirus highlights the states that expanded Medicaid and those that didn't expand Medicaid because when people don't have jobs and they don't have money, Medicaid is where they would be able to go to have coverage. And in some states, that is proving more difficult than in others.

DAVIS: Yeah. And look; I talked to a lot of Republican strategists, especially and mostly on the congressional front. And they will tell you privately that if this election is about health care, that their candidates stand to lose more than they stand to gain. What I think Republicans are doing is not necessarily trying to wage this debate about health care. They're trying to change it. They want the election to be about other things. They're shifting gears to focus more, attack more on Joe Biden and his record. And I think they're trying to make it more about the economy. There's still a hope among Republicans that, come this fall, we're going to see an economic turnaround. And they're going to run a campaign that's more about saying, let's get back to the strong economy we had. You know, Trump can do it. He did it before. Trust him again. They don't really want to be running...

KEITH: The Trump transition-to-greatness language that he's been using.

DAVIS: Exactly. They want it to be about the economy. And if voters are really driven to vote about a strong economy, that is a debate area where the Republican Party has historically benefited more. So this is the - you see the contours of sort of the general election playing out here but Democrats clearly going all in that they think it's going to be about health care. And they can clearly win on that issue.

KEITH: All right. Well, that is a wrap for today. Every week, we end our show with Can't Let It Go, where we talk about the things we can't stop thinking about, politics or otherwise. And we want to hear what you can't let go of. We're doing this every week now. Just use your phone to record yourself telling us about it - a voice memo. Twenty seconds is best. And then send it to We can't wait to hear your Can't Let It Gos (ph).

I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

DAVIS: I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

KEITH: And thank you for listening to THE NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


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