Rep. Tom MacArthur resigned Tuesday as co-chairman of the caucus of GOP moderates known as the Tuesday Group in the wake of deep divisions among its members over the House Obamacare replacement bill he helped craft.
“You can’t lead people where they don’t want to go,” MacArthur said Tuesday morning in an interview with POLITICO New Jersey. “I think some people in the group just have a different view of what governing is.”
MacArthur announced his resignation during the group’s regular Tuesday meeting in Washington. He said he alerted House Speaker Paul Ryan on Monday.
“Clearly, our group is divided. Many in the Tuesday Group are eager to live up to our ideal of being problem-solvers, while others seem unwilling to compromise,” MacArthur, 56, told the group, according to prepared remarks obtained by POLITICO New Jersey.
MacArthur, a multimillionaire former insurance executive who represents the 3rd Congressional District in South Jersey, a swing district, alienated some of his centrist colleagues by brokering the deal on health care reform with the hard-line conservative Freedom Caucus, a move that helped secure the bill’s passage earlier this month.
Much of the public pushback from fellow moderates was over concern the amendment MacArthur crafted would alter one of Obamacare’s most popular provisions: a prohibition on charging higher rates for people with pre-existing conditions. Other members said the amendment failed to address their main concern regarding the rollback of federal funds for Medicaid expansion included in the original bill.
While some Tuesday Group members expressed anger and frustration over the deal — and were particularly critical of MacArthur for not including them in the talks — the congressman insisted he wasn’t forced to step down.
“I’m not looking to be divisive within the group, and I’m not looking to change who I am,” he told POLITICO New Jersey. “I’m going to continue to govern the way I believe the American people need us to govern. That means we engage with the Freedom Caucus. We engage with everybody.”
MacArthur said he plans to remain a member of the Tuesday Group even though he is resigning from his leadership role. The move, he said, will free him up to pursue future negotiations without having to worry about whether certain members of the group would be upset.
“This unwillingness to engage with members of our own party is unacceptable to me,” he said regarding the controversy over his discussions with the Freedom Caucus.
The two-term congressman, whose district includes parts of Ocean and Burlington counties, has served as co-chair of the Tuesday Group for less than five months, alongside Reps. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and Elise Stefanik of New York.
It was largely because of MacArthur that the replacement bill for Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act, was revived. After Ryan pulled an earlier version of the American Health Care Act because of a lack of support, the amendment MacArthur negotiated with Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, garnered enough support to pass the House.
During the process, MacArthur said he was negotiating as an “individual” and not on behalf of the Tuesday Group.
Dent, his co-chair, voted against the AHCA, as did 11 other members of the 50-member group of House moderates, including MacArthur’s state delegation colleagues Reps. Leonard Lance and Frank LoBiondo.
“More than half of the no votes for the AHCA came from Tuesday Group members, despite almost every one of our members voting numerous times to repeal the ACA,” MacArthur said, according to the prepared remarks he delivered to the group on Tuesday. “Arguably we have a Congressional majority because of this very issue.”
Stefanik and the state’s most powerful lawmaker, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, voted to support the bill.
National and local Democrats are already plotting a 2018 challenge to MacArthur, whose district voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016.
But MacArthur may be less vulnerable than some of his delegation colleagues. The Cook Political Report rates his district as “likely Republican,” while Frelinghuysen’s district in North Jersey was recently shifted to “lean Republican.”
Earlier this month, during a town hall in Willingboro, the most Democratic town in his district, MacArthur withstood five hours of blistering attacks from constituents fearful the revised bill would, among other things, not cover people with pre-existing conditions.
The new bill prohibits insurers from denying coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, but it would allow states to apply for waivers from certain Obamacare provisions, which could potentially result in higher premiums for sicker people who have gaps in continual health coverage.
The waivers, MacArthur maintains, would apply only to the 7 percent of the U.S. population that is covered by the individual health insurance market.
MacArthur’s announcement that he is resigning as chair of the Tuesday Group comes the day before the Congressional Budget Office is expected to release a revised score indicating how many people would lose health care coverage under the revised bill.
Read MacArthur’s remarks as prepared for delivery below:
After a career in business, I ran for Congress determined to be a serious policymaker and confront the important issues of our day. To that end, I was excited to join an organization of centrist Republicans who brand themselves as the “commonsense, problem-solving wing of the Republican Party.”
For two years, I listened in meetings as some in the Tuesday Group complained about the group’s lack of relevance and inability to get things done. I ran for co-chairman of Tuesday Group because I felt I could help change that – both in perception and reality – and move the ball forward on a number of key issues.
While some embraced my efforts as Co-Chairman, others have bristled. Clearly, our group is divided. Many in the Tuesday Group are eager to live up to our ideal of being problem-solvers, while others seem unwilling to compromise. The recent healthcare debate was illustrative.
More than half of the no votes for the AHCA came from Tuesday Group members, despite almost every one of our members voting numerous times to repeal the ACA. Arguably we have a Congressional majority because of this very issue. Frankly, inaction on healthcare was a non-starter for me, and it should be for our entire party. We owe it to the American people who elected us to fix the Obamacare mess. Just because it’s hard cannot become an excuse to do nothing.
During efforts to reform our healthcare system, I worked with many in the Tuesday Group towards a real solution that would protect the most vulnerable among us, while driving down healthcare costs. I am grateful to my colleagues across the political spectrum and have been encouraged by their support. That being said, it’s clear that some in the Tuesday Group have different objectives and a different sense of governing than I do.
Effective immediately, I resign as co-chair of the Tuesday Group.