Senate Republicans Swear Women Aren't Being Excluded From Health Care Talks

“You need to write about what’s actually happening,” Sen. Mitch McConnell admonished reporters.

WASHINGTON ― Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday downplayed reports that a 13-member group working on health care legislation includes no women.

“There is no particular working group,” McConnell told reporters as the Senate group began discussing changes to the House Trumpcare bill. “There are groups meeting.”

Last week, the House passed legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act before rushing out the door for a week-long recess. The hurriedly drafted bill barely made it through the lower chamber, and is likely to be revised in the Senate. 

Some senators want changes in the health insurance tax credits portion of the bill, which raises costs for lower-income and elderly Americans. Others, like Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, are wary of the restriction on Medicaid funding to family planning provider Planned Parenthood. 

McConnell, at the start of his weekly press conference, quickly dismissed the idea that women didn’t have a seat at the table. Despite the “chatter” about meetings, McConnell said, the ones that count are weekly lunches Republican senators hold from Tuesday through Thursday. 

“The working group counts as all 52 of us, and we’re having extensive meetings,” McConnell told reporters, referring to the entire Senate population of Republicans. “Nobody is being excluded based upon gender.

“You need to write about what’s actually happening,” he continued. “We are having a discussion about real issues. Everybody is at the table.”

McConnell said he’s confident Republicans will be able to work out their differences. At least 50 GOP senators will have to support the bill for passage.

When the 13-man group met on Tuesday, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) stopped in to discuss Medicaid, even though she’s not a member of the core group.

Democrats seized on the poor optics. 

“If you look at the House bill, it is so discriminatory against women,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. “And to not have women in the smaller group that we know is making many of the real decisions is a very, very bad thing. They’re more than half the population. It not only sends a bad signal, but will produce a bad result.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said health coverage women need in order to be “economically secure” won’t come up if they aren’t in the room.

“We know it makes a difference when women are in the room, and we know it makes a difference when women aren’t in the room on what is brought up, how it’s seen, and how it’s put together,” Murray said. “And without women in that working group, I can tell you right now it’s not going to address the issues that women look at when they do health care.”