Although Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton appeared this week just a few miles from where Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal lays his head on those rare nights he spends off the campaign trail, her campaign brushed off the governor’s suggestion that the two should debate health care.
With Jindal’s own presidential aspirations on life support, Clinton’s obviously got much more pressing concerns, from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ unexpected popularity to ongoing fallout over her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.
But if Clinton doesn’t view Jindal as a threat, she was more than happy to use him as a foil when she came to town to rally her base Monday.
Because Jindal has refused to expand Medicaid coverage, a key component of the Affordable Care Act that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled optional, more than 190,000 struggling Louisianians can’t get coverage, Clinton said to loud boos.
‘‘He put ideology ahead of the well-being of the people and the families in this state,’’ she told roughly 1,000 supporters who’d packed into the Louisiana Leadership Institute’s north Baton Rouge gym. The decision has disproportionately harmed people of color, she added.
That theme was no afterthought. Sanders’ summer rally in Kenner drew a largely white crowd of supporters who share his impatience with the party’s mainstream, but the people who came out to see Clinton looked much more like the Democratic base, particularly in the South. Clinton’s counting on Louisiana and other states with large African-American populations to have her back come primary time.
Going after Jindal at home is a sure way to fire up her own supporters. And so, it turns out, is focusing on health care, a joint area of interest but one in which the two hopefuls hold deeply opposing views.
Clinton, of course, tried and failed to push universal health care when she was first lady, and told the crowd Monday how excited she was to be part of an administration that had finally gotten it done, even though her post as President Barack Obama’s chief diplomat gave her no direct role.
But Clinton’s newly enthusiastic embrace of the Affordable Care Act is also a sign that, after years of controversy, the issue as a whole is tilting in the Democrats’ favor.
“It’s not just a political issue, it’s a moral issue,” she argued to loud cheers. While the law can certainly be improved, “I’m not going to let them tear up that law, kick 16 million people off their health coverage and force the country to start the health care debate all over again,” Clinton said.
Jindal, of course, is positioning himself as the most aggressive ACA opponent in the overcrowded GOP field. He frequently calls out congressional Republicans for failing to repeal and replace it, even when offered a reality check by sympathetic questioners.
“They tried. They tried,” Fox News host Megyn Kelly interjected when Jindal made his case in an interview this week.
“They say they tried, but they hadn’t voted once on a replacement for Obamacare,” Jindal said.
What he didn’t say is that there’s a reason for that. Republicans want to get rid of the law’s unpopular parts but are rightfully wary of cutting off a large swath of the electorate, from lower-income people who don’t get insurance through employers, to young adults who can now stay on their parents’ policies, to people with pre-existing conditions who can finally qualify for individual plans that won’t break the bank, to patients with serious ailments who in the past would have hit lifetime limits on payouts.
The law is far from perfect, but these are real benefits that have made many thousands of Americans less financially insecure, and poll after poll has documented strong support for these benefits. Politicians come after them at their own peril.
In the unlikely scenario that Clinton ever has to deal with Jindal as a serious competitor, that’s a debate she should welcome. Judging from her speech Monday, she already does.