Cautious Kansas Sen. Moran steps into health law spotlight
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran is nobody’s idea of a rabble-rouser. A Republican stalwart with a low-key style and reputation for caution, his decision to publicly torpedo the latest Senate GOP plan to overhaul health care raised eyebrows.
The contrast is sharp between Moran and Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee, the other senator who scuttled the Republican plan Monday night. Lee is a tea party favorite once willing to shut down the federal government to stymie former President Barack Obama’s health care policies.
After Moran and Lee announced their opposition, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell abandoned the bill and called for the Senate to repeal Obama’s signature law without a replacement.
Moran said he would be fine with repealing before replacing. But he said the replace part should “start fresh” with a more open process. He’s also wanted to protect rural hospitals, and his staff has been in regular contact with the Kansas Hospital Association, which has been critical of GOP proposals so far.
Moran acknowledged in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press from Washington that he felt “a little coolness in the air” from fellow Republicans after he opposed the plan, although he expects that to be temporary. Photos from the Capitol showed him jumping the tracks of the Senate subway to avoid a large crowd of reporters. Looking for attention is “not my nature,” Moran said.
“I’m just not interested at all, particularly, in the national media attention that comes with this position,” Moran said, adding that he doesn’t do mass media and reporters well.
Moran’s home state hasn’t elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1932; he won his 2016 race by 30 percentage points and wouldn’t be on the ballot again for five more years anyway.
An aw-shucks demeanor Moran has brought to hundreds of far-flung town hall meetings over the years will likely insulate him from any serious challenge, from the left or right. He’s also built up political capital by returning to Kansas each weekend.
“This is showing that he is willing to step out when he thinks it has a significant effect on his constituents,” said state GOP Chairman Kelly Arnold.
Moran’s stance also is garnering praise from the hospital association, which projects GOP proposals will cost the state federal funds. More than 30 community hospitals are considered financially vulnerable, many in rural areas of the state. The hospital association noted Tuesday that the senator has visited all 127 community hospitals in the state.
“He’s always had an ear to listen to the concerns of our members,” said Cindy Samuelson, the association’s spokeswoman.
Moran, 63, grew up in rural northwest Kansas, became a lawyer and after a stint in the state Senate, captured the seat for the sprawling and safely GOP 1st Congressional District in 1996.
Other politicians sometimes tagged him as indecisive. During a speech to a 2002 state GOP gathering, Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts joked that Moran, who didn’t attend, had received an invitation but, “he couldn’t decide.”
Moran appeared last year to buck McConnell by calling in two western Kansas town hall meetings for a hearing on Obama’s last but never-considered U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. Conservatives complained loudly, and Moran later said he’d studied the nominee’s record and no longer saw the need for a hearing.
In 2010, in a tough GOP primary in his first U.S. Senate race, one short-term ex-campaign manager claimed Moran was unsure of his beliefs and “winced” at being called a conservative. Moran’s staff said the ex-campaign manager was disgruntled after being forced out.
Moran has long been a critic of the Affordable Care Act, arguing that it did nothing to rein in rising health care costs while making health plans for individuals and small businesses more expensive. As a congressman, he filed one of the first bills to repeal it.
Kansas conservatives have been successful running against Obama and his health care law, and President Donald Trump carried the state easily in last year’s election.
Roger Marshall, the current 1st District congressman and a Moran ally, said he trusts Moran is working for a better health care plan but added, “I think that there’s no way that we’re going to have a perfect health care bill.”
Moran also is breaking with Roberts, who helped draft the Senate GOP proposals and is backing them. Roberts has said Kansas would do well under the GOP proposals and called Tuesday for all senators to “engage” on the legislation.
Moran said he has a responsibility to pursue “what is best” for his state.
“I’ll try to do that in a way that is effective, that leaves me fully capable of having conversations with the president and people at the White House, as well as my congressional colleagues,” Moran said, adding that despite any coolness from Republicans toward him now, “I don’t have a sense that there’s a problem.”
Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna.