MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Shelley Moore Capito is the most popular politician in a deep-red state that loves President Donald Trump and distrusts big government. And yet the West Virginia Republican is threatening to torpedo the GOP’s best shot at dismantling Obamacare, one of Trump’s top domestic priorities.
The first-term senator has emerged as one of the staunchest holdouts against Senate Republicans’ bid to overhaul the nation’s health care system, voicing concerns about the bill’s consequences for older Americans and rejecting swift funding cuts for a Medicaid program that’s played a key role in combating her state’s opioid epidemic.
Those objections, voiced by at least a half-dozen other moderate Republicans, foiled Senate leadership’s plans to speed a repeal bill to a vote. And it’s left Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just weeks to end a deepening impasse, with no signs that the weeklong July Fourth recess has brought the GOP closer to uniting its conservative and moderate factions around a repeal plan.
But if Capito is feeling the heat in a state that Trump won by more than 42 percentage points, she isn’t showing it. Back here in West Virginia, where more than 30 percent of families rely on Medicaid, she doesn’t hesitate at the prospect of casting the vote that kills the GOP’s repeal effort.
“I only see it through the lens of a vulnerable population who needs help, who I care about very deeply,” the 63-year-old lawmaker said in an interview. “So that gives me strength. If I have to be that one person, I will be it.”
Capito’s resolve illustrates how intractable the debate over replacing Obamacare has become for a Republican Congress nearly seven months into a repeal effort that GOP leaders initially hoped would take just weeks.
Her record, meanwhile, illustrates why Republican leaders thought they could get repeal done quickly: Capito voted more than 40 times to dismantle Obamacare as a House member. As West Virginia transformed from a Democratic stronghold into a reliably Republican state, Capito won her Senate seat in 2014 by one of the largest margins in state history. The following year, she voted with virtually all Senate Republicans for a bill repealing major parts of Obamacare — without a replacement — that they knew President Barack Obama would veto.