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House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy Talks Healthcare and Immigration at CAA Event

Variety logo Variety 2/24/2017 Ted Johnson
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House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) wasn’t exactly appearing before the most agreeable of crowds when he sat down for a conversation before agents, activists, and other political figures at CAA on Friday.

He was one of the few Republicans on the bill for the agency’s “Take Action Day,” and when the conversation turned to the Affordable Care Act, that showed.

Pointing out the cost of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion over the next decade, McCarthy asked, “Do you know what a trillion dollars is today?”

One person mentioned President Trump’s travel budget. Another person in the crowd blurted out, “Don’t build a wall!”

CAA agent Darnell Strom, who moderated the discussion, at one point reminded the audience that he’d get to their questions.

It was far from the raucous atmosphere of some recent town halls, where GOP lawmakers have faced a fusillade of questions and shouted comments from crowds, but McCarthy faced some skepticism as he tried to make the case for GOP plans for a replacement.

He said that what he favored was something that offered tax credits and gave consumers greater choices among insurance plans. He compared it to what a cable subscriber would do as they pick options for programming packages.

The trouble with Obamacare, he said, is that providers have pulled out of the exchanges, leaving providers in some areas of the country with just one choice. He cited the recent decision by Humana to pull out of the exchanges. The question, though, is whether a GOP proposal that expands options leads to cheaper and more affordable healthcare.

“Let’s put ideas in the marketplace and see what works best,” he said.

McCarthy also pushed back against the idea that Republicans were looking to repeal Obamacare provisions that prohibit insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, as well as a mandate to cover children on their parents’ policies until they are 26 years old. He noted that past House bills to repeal healthcare did not include those provisions in repeal.

“We’re not going to now?”

Strom suggested that the GOP was facing difficulty in covering its intentions when it came to healthcare, noting that “there’s an idea in there. You just don’t tell it well.” Democrats, too, faced problems when Congress was debating the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and 2010, and Tea Party groups flooded lawmaker town halls in protest.

The CAA event also included such figures as former Sen. Barbara Boxer, cultural activist Yosi Sergant, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, with panels on criminal justice, immigration, and the environment.

McCarthy did acknowledge that there were concerns among some of his constituents in the Central Valley, an area heavy in agriculture, over what impact President Trump’s immigration policies would have on the availability of their labor force.

On Friday, Trump referred to efforts to deport undocumented immigrants as a “military operation.” His spokesman later said that the president meant to use the term as an adjective.

McCarthy said that he had not yet heard or read Trump’s characterization, but said that he “would disagree with that.”

Still, he seemed to warn Democrats, now in the minority, from moving into a role similar to how the Tea Party forced the Republicans to the right. He also said that California leaders should be looking for areas of agreement with Trump, rather than opposing him from the start. Before Trump took office, state lawmakers hired former Attorney General Eric Holder to work on challenges to administration policies.

“We should first sit down and say, ‘Let’s see what we can agree upon.'” He added, “I know the president’s personality. Don’t start poking him. He’ll poke right back.”

The Oscar ceremony on Sunday may be a forum for Trump jokes and political speeches attacking the right, and McCarthy said that performers should have the right to “use whatever platform you have.” But he suggested that the potential for a backlash is reach. Were such a ceremony taking place before an election, “I think it helps me.”

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