Hillary Clinton defended President Barack Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act, during a campaign stop in Baton Rouge on Monday and took aim at her Republican rivals who say they want to repeal “Obamacare.”
“It’s not just a political issue, it’s a moral issue,” the Democratic presidential front-runner told a crowd of 1,200 cheering supporters and schoolchildren at the Louisiana Leadership Institute.
Attendees circulated volunteer sign-up sheets and texted their information to the campaign during the rally, which was the first of several stops on Clinton’s latest effort to campaign on the importance of the federal health care law and her plans to protect and build on it.
“I’m not going to let them tear up that law, kick 16 million people off their coverage and force the country to start the health care debate all over again,” she said as supporters waved bright blue “Hillary” signs.
Clinton won several bouts of applause from the friendly crowd, particularly as she took jabs at Gov. Bobby Jindal and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, both Republicans.
Jindal, who is seeking the GOP nomination for president, has been a vocal opponent of Obamacare and has repeatedly called for its repeal. He also blocked the state from expanding its Medicaid program for the poor and uninsured through an optional piece of the federal health care law — a point that Clinton was quick to point out.
“He put ideology ahead of the well-being of the people and the families in this state,” Clinton said, noting that some 190,000 people in Louisiana would have been eligible for Medicaid if Jindal had supported expansion.
The ACA has faced near constant backlash from many Republicans since it was signed into law in 2010. Jindal, through his America Next policy group, released his own proposal to repeal the law and replace it last year.
But Clinton said such a move would be too disruptive and vowed to fight any effort to repeal the law, if elected.
“I want to build on the progress we’ve made. I’ll do more,” she said.
Clinton said she would announce a plan this week to further address health care costs, including rising drug prices.
Ahead of Monday’s rally, Jindal publicly challenged Clinton to a debate over health care.
“Instead of the carefully controlled campaign events that Secretary Clinton prefers, let’s give the American people a real live discussion,” Jindal said in a statement.
Clinton didn’t directly respond to Jindal’s debate challenge — and is unlikely to take him up on the offer. Clinton has long been the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, while Jindal has polled at or below 1 percent nationally in the Republican contest in recent weeks.
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, who led Monday’s introductions, joked that Jindal had not even made it off the GOP’s second-tier debate stage.
After the event, Jindal’s campaign, the state Republican Party and the Republican National Committee all slammed Clinton’s Obamacare defense.
Jindal called Clinton the “godmother of socialized medicine.”
“The truth is that Louisianians oppose Obamacare and rejected the expansion of Medicaid for the same reasons that we opposed HillaryCare in the ’90s: It would put more people on a poorly run government health care system, take away freedom and bust the budget,” he said.
Clinton was scheduled to hold a campaign fundraiser in Baton Rouge after her public appearance before heading to another health care rally at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The Clinton campaign said it did not yet have a tally on how much it raised here or a head count of fundraiser attendees.
State Rep. John Bel Edwards, the leading Democrat in the race for governor this year, did not attend either the rally or the fundraiser.
Louisiana Democratic Party Chairwoman and state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson was among several high-profile Democrats who participated in Clinton’s rally — another point that Jindal’s campaign used in criticizing Clinton. Peterson, of New Orleans, has previously said on the Senate floor that she believes Obamacare opposition is linked to racism against Obama.
“Does Hillary Clinton think it’s OK for members of her party to play the race card in support of unpopular policies? Does she agree with the chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party that Louisianians oppose Obamacare because of the president’s race?” Jindal asked in a campaign email.
The state GOP meanwhile, took aim at attendance, noting that Clinton’s chief rival for the Democratic nomination, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, drew more than three times as many people to a recent rally in Kenner.
“While the state Democrat Party is apparently in the bag for Hillary, it is clear the voters of Louisiana are ready for anyone but Hillary,” Republican Party of Louisiana Chairman Roger Villere said in a statement.