Politics & Government

South Carolina governor backs Graham’s bill, but praises Trump

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., left, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., right, talk while walking to a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., left, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., right, talk while walking to a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP

In his quest to gather support for his bill to transform the American health care system, Sen. Lindsey Graham can now claim backing from his home state governor. But it could be too late.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced on Friday afternoon that after “studying” the proposal, he was “lending” his support to President Donald Trump’s efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Moments later, though, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Graham’s closest friend in Congress, said he’ll oppose the plan. That means it’s likely three Republicans, including Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, will vote “no.” Since Republicans control 52 of the Senate’s 100 seats, and all Democrats are expected to vote no, the plan is in huge trouble.

Even McMaster appeared to be distancing himself somewhat from Graham.

McMaster’s spokesman confirmed to McClatchy that the governor was endorsing Graham’s legislation to send all money spent on Obamacare back to the states in the form of block grants. However, McMaster in his letter directly to Trump did not mention Graham’s name once or discuss the legislative proposal in depth.

“Ill-conceived Obamacare mandates have undercut the states’ ability to innovate and adopt approaches tailored to their needs,” McMaster wrote. “The cost increases resulting from this top-down, one-size-fits-all approach have resulted in higher insurance premiums and rising health care costs. Congress must repeal Obamacare and replace it with a system that places health care decision-making back where it belongs: With the people and the states.”

It is unclear why McMaster framed his support solely allied with Trump rather than with Graham, the governor’s longtime friend and fellow Republican lawmaker.

It could be McMaster saw an advantage to making his endorsement about the president, whose popularity continues to be strong in South Carolina, rather than about Graham, who is fending off criticism from hardline conservatives that his bill doesn’t really repeal Obamacare because it maintains the current law’s taxes to bolster the block grants.

In throwing support behind Trump, McMaster also accomplishes a goal of looking strong on repealing Obamacare without claiming ownership of a bill surrounded by uncertainties, notably how many people would lose insurance and how steeply premiums would increase.

Graham had said over the past several weeks that his governor was likely to be supportive, even as dozens of chief executives from other states signed onto letters praising the Republican effort.

Emma Dumain @emma_dumain