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After Mueller Report Memo, Democrats Turn To Health Care — For Now

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., walks to a Democratic Caucus meeting at the Capitol on Tuesday. She told lawmakers to "stay focused on our purpose for the people" with the end of the special counsel's Russia investigation.
J. Scott Applewhite
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Updated at 1:40 p.m. ET

The assertion by Attorney General William Barr that special counsel Robert Mueller found the Trump campaign did not conspire with the Russian government in 2016 removes, for now, a major focus of Democrats' messaging.

But it has also given them an opening to turn to an issue they believe is more important to many voters anyway: health care.

In Democrats' eyes, the Trump administration handed them the perfect opportunity on Monday night, when it filed in a Texas court case that would overturn the entirety of the Affordable Care Act.

Democrats feel they won the House in 2018 in large part because of a back-to-basics message that included protecting the ACA. The Trump administration's efforts to overturn the law, including the expansion of Medicare, would jeopardize health care for millions of Americans, Democrats say, and could drive voters away from Trump and Republicans in 2020.

Democrats were quick to pounce on the administration's filing in the Texas case. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee issued a statement asserting that "voters detest the GOP's never-ending efforts to jeopardize their health care, they don't believe the lies Republicans tell about their records when they get caught, and they'll hold every GOP Senate candidate accountable in 2020."

At a closed-door meeting of House Democrats on Tuesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said it was important for Democrats to "stay focused on our purpose for the people: lower health care costs, bigger paychecks and cleaner government," according to an aide in the room.

"We've just got to do the right thing. Stay focused on health care, rebuilding our country, raising people's wages. If we focus on that, we'll be all right," said Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., who is running the House Democrats' campaign operation for the 2020 elections.

President Trump, as he arrived at the Capitol Tuesday for a meeting with Senate Republicans, said, "the Republican Party will soon be known as the party of health care," but it is not clear whether he has any plan to replace the ACA should it be struck down in the courts.

Still, despite the animosity over the Mueller report, one area where Democrats believe they can work with President Trump is on lowering prescription drug prices — a rare issue both sides agree on. The topic has nonetheless eluded compromise for years.

A spokesman for Pelosi confirms there are early, staff-level talks with the White House on possible legislation to lower drug prices. The talks were first reported by Politico.

"We've been having some staff-level discussions with the Administration about lowering prescription drug prices, but they aren't negotiations," cautioned Pelosi spokesman Henry Connelly in a statement. "House Democrats promised the American people we'd take bold action to lower prescription drug prices, and that's what we're going to do."

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NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.
Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.