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Democrats target vulnerable Republicans on health care

Representative David Young spoke with a Chamber of Commerce leader during a visit to Glenwood, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press
Representative David Young spoke with a Chamber of Commerce leader during a visit to Glenwood, Iowa.

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Democrats used a bus emblazoned with the words ‘‘Drive for our Lives’’ on Friday to build up opposition to vulnerable House Republicans who voted against the federal health care law.

The aim is to deprive the GOP of its congressional majority in next year’s midterm elections.

The vote to repeal and replace president Barack Obama’s health care law looms large for 21 GOP lawmakers, including Iowa Representatives David Young and Rod Blum. They represent competitive congressional districts where Democrat Hillary Clinton won or came close in last year’s presidential election.

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The collapse of the yearslong Republican quest to dismantle Obamacare has been a bitter pill for House Republicans who voted for the legislation in May only to see the drive fall apart recently in the Senate when the GOP failed to muster enough votes.

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Now all that some lawmakers have to show for the politically tough vote is the word ‘‘mean’’: President Trump’s description of legislation that would have made deep cuts in Medicaid, allowed states to opt out of coverage for essential benefits, and knocked 23 million Americans off insurance.

The bus motored into Iowa on Friday, stopping in Cedar Rapids, the largest city in Blum’s eastern Iowa district.

The motor coach was parked in downtown Cedar Rapids as resident Diane Peterson urged Blum to listen to his district’s independent voters, who outnumber those affiliated with either major party.

‘‘Of course there are things in the ACA that need fixing,’’ said Peterson, referring to the Affordable Care Act. The 61-year-old Democrat and coffee shop owner from Hiawatha added, ‘‘But Republicans now need to reach out.’’

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Hard-line conservatives of the House Freedom Caucus began an uphill fight Friday to force a fresh House vote this fall on erasing much of the Obama law without an immediate replacement. The GOP-led Senate turned down a similar repeal-only bill last month, and top House Republicans have little interest in refighting a health care battle.

A national poll released Friday by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that most Americans want President Trump and Congress to stop trying to scuttle the health care law, and start trying to make it more effective.

About 4 in 5 people responding to the poll said they want the Trump administration to take actions that help Obama’s law function properly.

Just 3 in 10 want Trump and Republicans to continue their drive to repeal and replace the law. Most prefer that they instead move to shore up the law’s marketplaces, which are seeing rising premiums and in some areas few insurers willing to sell policies.

Although Blum has clearly allied himself with the Freedom Caucus, Young angered conservatives when he initially opposed a House GOP health care bill, then weeks later swung behind it.

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Independents were frustrated with the two-term representative’s embrace of a partisan approach to repealing and replacing the Obama law.

‘‘David Young is not as conservative as some would like here in southwest Iowa,’’ said David Overholtzer, a 56-year-old accountant from Council Bluffs.

‘‘Things need to get done,’’ said Jeff Jorgensen, a western Iowa Republican county chairman. ‘‘He’s doing OK, but his chances for reelection are tied to Trump’s popularity.’’

A Des Moines Register poll last month showed Trump’s disapproval climbing to 52 percent in Iowa. The increase was driven largely by independents, 59 percent of whom disapproved of Trump’s job performance, compared with 50 percent in February.

Independents, who hold sway in Young’s politically diverse district, want a bipartisan approach to health care.

‘‘That’s what I and others like me have been saying: Because of this fail, people might reach across the aisle and craft something together,’’ said Mark Scherer, a 65-year-old manufacturing representative and political independent from a north Des Moines suburb.

Now, Young is talking about bipartisanship as he faces the reality that Democrats are gunning for him in a state where Trump’s approval is sinking and neither can boast a major legislative achievement.

‘‘We’ve got to pivot for the good of the country to a more bipartisan solution,’’ the 49-year-old Young, a former chief of staff to Senator Chuck Grassley, said during a visit to far western Iowa.

Young defended his vote for the House GOP bill, arguing that Republicans added billions of dollars more to help people with preexisting conditions.

Democrat Janet Norris from Red Oak, who met privately with Young in her western Iowa hometown last week, called his reasoning ‘‘doublespeak.’’

‘‘You need to assure me you care about us in the Third District, and not what Republican leadership tells you to do,’’ she recalled telling Young.