Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet on GOP health care bill: ‘Nobody should bet against Mitch McConnell’

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, right, talks with Pod Save America hosts Jon Favreau and Tommy Vietor on July 1, 2017, in his Senate office in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy Michael Bennet via Twitter)

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, right, talks with Pod Save America hosts Jon Favreau and Tommy Vietor on July 1, 2017, in his Senate office in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy Michael Bennet via Twitter)

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, is warning against underestimating Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s ability to pass legislation overhauling the nation’s health care system — even if the bill appears to be on the ropes.

“It is hard to bet against Mitch McConnell. He is relentless at this stuff,” Bennet told the hosts of the popular podcast “Pod Save America” during an interview in his Senate office in Washington that posted online July 1.

Bennet spoke on June 28 with Crooked Media founders and former Obama administration officials Jon Favreau and Tommy Vietor, who had recently interviewed participants opposed to the GOP-authored health care bill at a Capitol rally. (Bennet’s interview appears near the end of the roughly 30-minute podcast, which can be streamed or downloaded on iTunes and on the site maintained by its producers.)

While McConnell had recently delayed a vote on the bill — known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act — because of growing opposition by Republican senators, Bennet cautioned against taking anything for granted in the current political climate.

McConnell, Bennet said, “has defined, unfortunately, a kind of politics that I’ve become very worried about, which is one where there’s no rules, there’s no customs, there’s no standards. And whatever you can get away with is what you can get away with. So if you can block Merrick Garland, you block Merrick Garland. If you can blow up the nuclear option on the Supreme Court, you do that too. And I think he will stop at nothing to pass this bill.”

Bennet, a persistent and vocal critic of the both the House and Senate versions of the bill, said it would be a “mistake” if Republicans somehow managed to pass the bill. “I can’t imagine how (McConnell) can make the bill any farther to the right and pass it — I don’t think that’s a possibility. It gives you a sense of the jam they’re in. Nobody should take it for granted, and nobody should bet against Mitch McConnell’s ability to get something done.”

Bennet said he understood what it was like being on the other side, recalling when Democrats were moving ahead with the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, through much of 2009, but he maintained that differences between the two parties’ approaches underlined how much the atmosphere has changed.

“Remember how much Mitch McConnell complained about the process with respect to Obamacare?” Bennet said. “And that was a bill that had over a year of public vetting and countless hearings and almost 200 Republican amendments were adopted as part of it. And he said, ‘The American people are sick and tired of these things being jammed through in the middle of the night,’ and he’s doing exactly the same thing here because he thinks he can get away with it. And he thinks nobody cares that a politician stands up and says the process is terrible, and then when it’s on the other side, you can just be inconsistent.”

Bennet reminisced about the town hall meetings he held all over the state when the Affordable Care Act was pending — something his Republican colleague, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, has declined to do this year.

“I was out doing town hall meetings in places like Lamar, Colorado,” Bennet said with a chuckle, “which is a place I treasure but not a place where I get a lot of votes, and where the Affordable Care Act was deeply unpopular — I mean, the equivalent would be doing a town hall meeting today in Boulder, trying to support this bill.”

Returning to his point about the “anything goes” politics of the day, Bennet lamented its effect on Washington’s ability to accomplish anything but speculated that might be the goal of some of his fellow lawmakers.

“I think it’s epidemic and a real problem for our politics, because when we behave that way, it degrades our institution, it degrades the people who are here, and the public’s expectations of what can actually get done diminishes,” Bennet said.

“And then you can’t get anything done — which is fine if your position is, ‘We’ve all been sent here to dismantle the federal government,’ which is the position of some of these people. Having a 9-percent approval rating for the Congress suits their purposes, because they get to say, ‘See how much that place sucks.’”

— Ernest.Luning@coloradopolitics.com

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