It’s health care, stupid – POLITICO

It’s health care, stupid – POLITICO

Welcome to POLITICO’s West Wing Playbook, your guide to the people and power centers in the Biden administration. With help from Allie Bice.  

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The last half-decade of American politics has been defined by its seismic shifts. But one constant has emerged: Democrats do better when they run on health care.

Tuesday’s midterms were no different.

Despite a dour economic mood, displeasure with the president, and historic trends against them, Democrats delivered strong showings across the board, putting President JOE BIDEN in position to keep critical hold of the Senate (and according to some starry-eyed aides, potentially even the House).

As the party sifts through the results in search of what went right, an early conclusion is that for all the focus on inflation and debates over democracy, tens of millions of voters were motivated by everyday health concerns — and that sizable group trusted Democrats far more than Republicans to address them.

“If you look at these individual members and who succeeded, health care was a huge part of what they stood for and talked about,” said LESLIE DACH, chair of the Democrat-aligned health group Protect Our Care. “The American people completely reject the Republican plans on health care.”

In key races, vulnerable Democrats like Sen. MAGGIE HASSAN of New Hampshire, Rep. ABIGAIL SPANBERGER of Virginia and Rep. SUSAN WILD of Pennsylvania ran on cutting drug costs and making health care more affordable. Biden spent the midterm stretch run hammering Republicans for suggesting cuts to Medicare.

And looming over it all was abortion, where the threat to reproductive rights juiced Democratic enthusiasm and hardened opposition to GOP challengers. Among those who said the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade had a major impact on which candidate they supported, 65 percent voted for the Democrat, polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows.

Democrats have enjoyed a clear political advantage on health issues since 2017, when GOP attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act backfired spectacularly and pushed support for the law to new heights. Since then, party leaders have sought to make health care a centerpiece of their agenda because, well, it’s popular.

“It has been in some ways an organizing principle that really defined and divided the parties,” said former Obama-era health secretary KATHLEEN SEBELIUS. “And I think the Dobbs decision was just another piece of this puzzle.”

It’s a remarkable shift from 2014, when then-Sen. MARK UDALL (D-Colo.) was widely ridiculed for focusing so much of his unsuccessful re-election campaign on reproductive rights (Mark Uterus became the moniker of mockery). But inside the White House, there was little hesitation at leaning hard into health care, even as some aides acknowledged Biden’s own discomfort with making abortion a central pillar of his campaign message. A Biden adviser said officials crafting the president’s economic message centered it on cutting household costs in large part to make for an easy pivot to Democrats’ well-received moves to boost access to prescription medicines and health insurance.

Though some Democrats worried that meant the White House wasn’t talking about inflation enough, the strategy appeared to pay off, as literally any Biden official will now happily inform you.

As the White House prepares the next phase of its agenda, health care is likely to play an even larger role. The just-passed cap on insulin prices for Medicare beneficiaries officially kicks in next year, and Biden is eager to sell it as concrete evidence he’s lowering costs. Democrats have also discussed voting to expand that cap to all Americans as a way to further pressure Republicans, after the GOP blocked an initial attempt earlier this year.

“We’re just getting started,” Biden declared at a Democratic National Committee event Thursday.

On abortion, Democrats have floated a range of options, from holding a variety of show votes to pushing policies that pre-emptively protect other reproductive rights. There’s little that Biden can single handedly do, advisers acknowledged.

But at minimum, Tuesday’s results justified their belief that abortion has become just the latest in a long line of health issues that are surefire winners for Democrats.

“It’s a lesson the Republicans never learn when it comes to health care,” Dach said. “People don’t want their freedoms taken away.”

MESSAGE US — Are you JESSICA SCHUBEL, the White House director of the Affordable Care Act and health care? We want to hear from you! And we’ll keep you anonymous. Email us at [email protected].

This one is from Allie. What was WARREN G. HARDING’s childhood nickname?

(Answer at the bottom.)

SCOOP: State Department press secretary NED PRICE has told people he plans to leave his post sometime early next year, according to people familiar with the matter.

He has been press secretary since the beginning of the Biden administration. Price has also indicated to people that he intends to remain in the administration in some capacity but it’s unclear where. He previously worked as an analyst and spokesperson at the CIA.

Asked for comment, Price said: “I love this job, this team, and this mission — and they’re my focus.”

ON THE CALENDAR: The president will meet with Chinese President XI JINPING on Nov. 14 in Bali, Indonesia. The two plan to discuss “efforts to maintain and deepen lines of communication between the United States and the PRC, responsibly manage competition, and work together where our interests align,” according to a White House statement. But during a briefing room appearance, national security adviser JAKE SULLIVAN said not to expect many “deliverables.”

Our JONATHAN LEMIRE provides a curtain raiser on that meeting, along with Biden’s other activity in the next week as he heads abroad for the G-20 and two other international summits.

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE WANTS YOU TO READ: The latest Consumer Price Index figures. Former Council of Economic Advisers Chair JASON FURMAN, not always the administration’s favorite left-of-center economist, tweeted Thursday morning that the latest report “was a pleasant surprise. Headline came in at an 5.4 percent annual rate in October. Core (excludes food & energy) was an 3.3 percent annual rate. And supercore, which also excludes shelter & used vehicles, was only 1.8 percent ar. Another 1 or 2 months like this and can relax a little.”

SEE ALSO: “Wall Street surges as S&P 500 soars 4% on cooling inflation,” by AP’s STAN CHOE

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ: Biden’s planned victory lap Friday at the COP-27 climate summit in Egypt may not be all that warmly received. Yes, Biden got a major climate package through Congress when the Inflation Reduction Act passed in August. But as the NYT’s Lisa Friedman explains, other nations, including developing countries, are increasingly frustrated with the U.S., “the world’s richest nation and the largest historic emitter of greenhouse gasses [that] has been absent from discussions at the summit this week about a new ‘loss and damage’ fund” that would pay reparations to poorer countries ravaged by climate disasters.

SEE YOU NEXT YEAR: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.) does not plan to hold a hearing this year on the nomination of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair RICHARD GLICK for another term, our JOSH SIEGEL and CATHERINE MOREHOUSE report for Pro subscribers. Glick’s term expired in June, but he can remain in the role until the end of the year. Without Glick’s confirmation for an additional term, the future of leadership at the FERC remains murky.

THE NEXT IRS CHIEF: Biden announced the nomination of DANIEL WERFEL to serve as the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, a position that will open up once the term of current commissioner, CHARLES RETTIG, expires this weekend, our BRIAN FALER reports for Pro subscribers. Werfel has experience in both the Bush and Obama administrations, working at the White House Office of Management and Budget and the IRS, and stepped in as acting IRS commissioner back in 2013.

DEPT. OF WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR ME LATELY: Biden may have had an unexpectedly great night on Tuesday. Inflation may be cooling off a bit. Democrats may be slowly emerging from their protective shell of political panic. But that’s not stopping chatter about whether someone else should be the party’s standard bearer in 2024.

On CNN, BAKARI SELLERS, a fierce KAMALA HARRIS ally, definitively declared that Biden is “going to be primaried.” Sellers went on to add that he supports Biden but that a progressive challenger will take him on. That, he added, is “a fact.”

This talk may seem misplaced at a moment of triumph for Biden. And, frankly, the guy is likely to run and, if he does, almost assuredly get the nomination. But chatter around this has been simmering for months and was bound to burst into public view after the midterms, no matter how they went. Ironically, the better than expected showing by Democrats has sparked new enthusiasm about the party’s bench and the national potential of several winning governors and lawmakers. One party strategist who was beyond the moon about Tuesday’s results, DMed us later the next day: “I still think that Biden shouldn’t run. He now can go out on top!”

For more on these vibes, check out the New York Times’ FRANK BRUNI’s latest column.

RINGING THE ALARM: U.S. officials based in Europe are warning their Washington colleagues that allies are growing angry over economic pressures they’re facing because of the Russia-Ukraine conflict — and they’re putting the blame on the U.S., our ERIN BANCO and PAUL MCLEARY report. The pressure could result in European leaders pulling back their support for sanctions.

ROADBLOCKS AHEAD: The president is expected to highlight this administration’s efforts in addressing climate change through agriculture at the U.N.’s climate conference in Egypt Friday but the efforts may soon be challenged by a Republican-controlled House next year, our MEREDITH LEE HILL reports for Pro subscribers. Republican lawmakers are looking to cut spending on climate programs, mostly through the Agriculture Department.

Twitter privacy executives quit, sparking FTC alarm (WaPo’s Joseph Menn, Cat Zakrzewski, Faiz Siddiqui and Nitasha Tiku)

An Inflation-Driven Midterm Will Not Change Biden’s Economic Focus (NYT’s Jim Tankersley)

WARREN G. HARDING was nicknamed “WINNIE,” by his mother, according to the MIller Center.

A CALL OUT — Do you think you have a harder trivia question? Send us your best one about the presidents with a citation and we may feature it.

Edited by Eun Kyung Kim and Sam Stein.