In fallout over health care collapse, it's GOP vs. GOP

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By THOMAS BEAUMONT and STEVE PEOPLES
Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) - GOP infighting intensified Wednesday as conservative leaders vowed to punish "traitorous" Republicans for abandoning promises on health care and activists lined up to run against the party's own congressmen across the nation.

In Colorado, conservative challenger Darryl Glenn lamented six-term Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn's vote for a health care repeal measure he said didn't go far enough.

"The fact that you run on repeal and replace, and then you don't deliver? It's more about political cover and staying in power than solving problems," said Glenn, one of at least two Republicans already challenging Lamborn in the conservative district.

From Washington to Texas to Colorado, Tuesday's shock and frustration turned to fear and anger as the gravity of the GOP-controlled Senate's latest failure to vote on a health care measure took hold. Leading Republicans warned of dire political consequences in next year's midterm elections should their party fail to fulfill their years-long promise to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law.

"This is a vote a whole election can turn on," said Ken Cuccinelli, who leads the Senate Conservatives Fund.

Trump, who just a day earlier said he would simply let Obamacare fail, underscored the political stakes, too, as he increased the pressure on Republican senators to act. At a White House lunch, the president called on senators not to leave Washington for their scheduled August recess unless a bill to repeal and replace the nation's health care system was on his desk.

Seated next to Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, one of the most vulnerable GOP senators, Trump said, "He wants to remain a senator, doesn't he?"

Outside conservative groups, like the Senate Conservatives Fund, vowed on Wednesday to recruit challengers for "Obamacare Republicans."

"If the Republicans cannot repeal Obamacare now, they're going to need to call hospice, because their majority is not long for this world," Tony Perkins, president of the socially conservative Family Research Council, said in a conference call with angry conservative leaders from a half dozen organizations.

David Bozell, of the conservative group For America, called failure on health care "the ultimate political betrayal" that would rank among the worst deceptions in political history. It would be right up there, he said, with former President George H.W. Bush's "read my lips" pledge not to raise taxes.

The backlash against some Republicans extended from the conservative fringe to the heart of the GOP establishment.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who was hand-picked by Trump, issued a fundraising email lashing out at "some in the Senate" who are "refusing to even put a simple repeal bill" on the president's desk.

"If our elected officials don't pass what you voted for, we could lose the midterm elections," McDaniel wrote.

That fear was playing out on the ground in congressional districts across the nation, even 16 months before the next election.

In Colorado, Lamborn voted in early May for the House GOP health care bill that would have eliminated many of the Obama law's taxes and mandates, roll back Medicaid and allow states to opt out of providing essential services like maternity care and wellness visits.

Still, that's not good enough for some Republicans.

GOP Colorado state Sen. Owen Hill said the incumbent's vote for House legislation that did not fully repeal the 2010 law "validated my decision to move forward."

"Everyone's ticked off," Hill said. "All we're seeing is failing to make any traction on fulfilling promises to voters."

At the U.S. Capitol, Republicans are bracing for backlash.

House campaign officials say they expect more Republicans to step forward to challenge sitting lawmakers. Speaker Paul Ryan's super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, posted a record $15-million fundraising haul this month, aimed at protecting the majority.

Ryan "will continue to support his colleagues across the GOP conference as we prepare for the 2018 elections," said Ryan spokesman Zack Roday.

Republican House members also face GOP challenges in Texas, where Houston hospital executive David Balat, a Republican, is running against nine-term GOP Rep. John Culberson.

"There's hesitation for brave leadership and decision-making based on conservative ideology," Balat said.

Meanwhile, the conservative Club For Growth and Tea Party Patriots launched a new website on Wednesday titled, "Traitorous Republicans." They are targeting three Republican senators who voted for health care repeal in 2015 - Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito.

Murkowski and Capito have said they oppose moving ahead on a straight-up repeal. Portman has not indicated how he would vote.

Unclear is whether the Club, or any of the frustrated conservative groups, is prepared to run media ads or mobilize activists against the "Obamacare Republicans," but they will not let the GOP move on from health care painlessly.

Amid intensifying GOP infighting, many Republicans are warning of a rapidly closing window to get anything done.

"It's critical they show movement," North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes said of his party's leaders in Congress. "They're showing deadlock right now, and that won't cut it" in 2018.

___

Beaumont reported from Des Moines, Iowa. Associated Press writer Bill Barrow in Greensboro, North Carolina contributed to this report.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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