Senate Democrats pivot to health care

Party shifts away from Kavanaugh hearings

By MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT
Bob Kovach/CNN

(CNN) - Senate Democrats are quickly shifting their focus away from the polarizing Brett Kavanaugh fight and plan to intensely focus on health care in the final weeks of the midterm election season.

Top Democrats told CNN Tuesday evening that they view the focus on health care -- specifically the GOP-led lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act and gut pre-existing condition protections -- as more for salient in the eyes of voters, even as the GOP is campaigning heavily on the Kavanaugh fight to energize its base.

"It's the top of voters' minds," said Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, of health care. "Even after everything that has happened here in Washington -- not surprisingly the focus is on pocketbook issues. Not surprisingly rising health care costs are their No. 1 concern -- as well as protecting people with pre-existing conditions."

Voters, Van Hollen said, are "not going to be worried about the Kavanaugh hearings -- after what happened, that happened. They're going to be focused on day-to-day issues."

Van Hollen downplayed the impact the Kavanaugh fight would have on the battle for the Senate majority, even as Republicans have grown more confident they can retain power in the chamber because of growing GOP enthusiasm after the Supreme Court battle. Republicans control the chamber 51 seats to the Democrats 49, but 10 Democrats are up for re-election in states President Donald Trump won in 2016.

"There was already a path toward a majority in the Senate but it was a narrow path, and it remains the same," Van Hollen said.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, the lone Democrat to vote for Kavanaugh, said Tuesday that voters back home have been very "tolerant" of his vote -- but also said his race would turn on health care issues rather than the Supreme Court fight.

"There's a lot of people who were disappointed," said Manchin, who faces Republican Patrick Morrisey next month in his race, when asked about his Kavanaugh vote. "And there are a lot of people who are very, very supportive and very happy."

But he added: "In West Virginia, it's about health care. ... That's what my election is about."

The Senate plans to vote Wednesday on a Democratic effort to scrap a Trump administration rule that allows the sale of insurance plans that do not require coverage for pre-existing conditions.

On the Senate floor Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said: "Well, now that the Senate has concluded a very divisive debate about the Supreme Court, it's time to talk about the No. 1 issue to the American people -- health care."

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