President Donald Trump's approval rating is at its lowest point since the inauguration. He and his White House face multiple investigations, including from Congress and the Justice Department. Six in 10 Americans think Trump fired James Comey over the FBI's Russia investigation.
But despite the constant swirl of Trump-related Russia controversies, the early evidence from the campaign trail is that the president's scandals are far from the Republican Party's most serious political vulnerability. Half a dozen political scientists and political organizers on the ground said in interviews that they see one issue galvanizing voters more than any other — health care.
Trump may be increasingly unpopular nationally, but Speaker Paul Ryan's American Health Care Act — which Trump has backed but the conservative vision for which entirely predates his rise — is far more politically toxic. The evidence is mounting in the ongoing congressional campaigns. In the upcoming special elections in Georgia and Montana, Democrats' closing pitches have had far more to do with defending Obamacare than attacking Trump, while the Republicans in those races look to the president for political cover.
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The stakes of the AHCA are immediate and obvious. Though a revised bill hasn't received its final estimates, AHCA would cost an estimated 24 million people their health insurance, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It creates a waiver that would allow states to opt out of key Obamacare rules, like the one banning insurers from charging those with preexisting conditions more. There is a seemingly endless list of provisions that are vulnerable to attack — massive tax cuts for the wealthy; smaller financial benefits for the poor and elderly; weaker protections for children and parents.
"On [former FBI Director James] Comey and Russia, voters see there's a lot of smoke and maybe even some fire; they're yet to see that the fire might burn them," said Jesse Ferguson, a former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee official, in an interview. "Whereas on health care, the country knows that repeal will burn them."
In DC, it may look like congressional Republicans are lashed to the sinking Trump ship. But in competitive races across the country, Trump's popularity continues to keep the party's candidates afloat — as their congressional health care plan threatens to bring them down.