Tillis, GOP Vote on US Supreme Court Isn’t About Hypocrisy. It’s About Healthcare.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., meets with Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020, in Washington. (Bill Clark/Pool via AP)

By Billy Ball

October 2, 2020

Senators Tillis and Burr should tell us if they’re ok with millions of North Carolinians and Americans losing their health care. Because that’s what their rushed vote on another Trump nominee means.

GOP senators are committing a “towering act of hypocrisy,” the News & Observer’s Ned Barnett wrote

Why shouldn’t we consider this a flip-flop? asked a CBS-17 moderator during last week’s debate between Sen. Tillis and his Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham. 

Of course it’s a flip-flop. But it misses the point. Badly.

Yes, it is hypocritical for North Carolina’s senator to align behind an election-year Supreme Court confirmation after blocking the same for Democrats in 2016. Now that’s said, no one cares.

You and I may foam and froth, but for so many others, they expect no less from partisans. Not the average North Carolinian or American outside of the press box or the legislative chamber.

Here’s what the debate moderator should have asked Tillis: Are you ok with a US Supreme Court that will, with all likelihood, obliterate the Affordable Care Act, stripping health insurance and, it follows, healthcare to 29.8 million Americans and 1 million North Carolinians?

Are you ok with a US Supreme Court that would give insurers unfettered power to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions? That includes about 53.8 million non-elderly Americans and 1.7 million non-elderly North Carolinians, people we might soon consider uninsurable.

It’s what should be asked of Tillis the next time he stands in front of a microphone. 

Rest assured, both of these things would happen if a Trump-dominated Supreme Court takes on the popular ACA. The court is scheduled to hear arguments on the nation’s health care law Nov. 10, a week after Election Day. 

Because the US Supreme Court fight over Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett is not about her credentials or partisan infighting or the obvious hypocrisy of Republicans. This is about whether or not we can afford healthcare. 

Confusing one for the other is like mixing a summer popcorn flick with a doctor’s order. 

We expect politicians to be ruthless to each other, but not to us. And stripping health care from millions of Americans and North Carolinians before, during or after a pandemic is unquestionably ruthless.  

What Americans and North Carolinians care about is their health, and their freedoms, both of which might be irretrievably damaged by Republicans’ blind support for the president’s nominee, which Tillis has already pledged. 

Republicans and Tillis insist they do not want to deny health insurance to their constituents. Tillis says he wants to protect those constituents with pre-existing conditions. 

But in the decade since the ACA was signed into law, they have failed to offer a single viable alternative. They have scarcely even tried despite their dominance in the US Senate.

“We’ve really become the health-care party — the Republican Party,” Trump said, inexplicably, last week.

Which means, finally, that Trump understands irony.

Republicans have struggled even to cobble together an agreement speeding coronavirus relief to many millions of North Carolinians and Americans who badly need it right now, but the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death last month made hares out of these tortoises.

The problem with the GOP calculation on the US Supreme Court is that while we might have short political memories in this country, while we might be too jaded or scorched to expect better of our politicians, there are too many of us who recall life before the ACA. 

We remember those dizzying conversations with insurance underwriters. Your treatment will not be covered, they would say, leaving you the unpalatable options of wrecking your finances or living without treatment.

Bankruptcy or illness. 

We live under a president who revels in hyperbole, so we’ve become inured to it. We expect it. 

But it is not hyperbole to say that Trump and Tillis and the GOP sycophants behind the president are asking millions of us to make such a choice.

And they ask us to do so based on the decisions of a court now so warped by Republican manipulations since 2016 that this struggling president—who lost the popular vote by almost 3 million votes four years ago—will have the power to consolidate conservative power on the nation’s high court for a generation, a generation that might have little use for the increasingly anachronistic views of so many conservatives.

Preserving those views in amber on the US Supreme Court will not make them any more appealing to the next generation. If anything, it will only make them more noxious, just as their outdated view of healthcare — it’s a privilege, not a right — grows more dated by the minute. So many in this country have realized that healthcare should not be won; it should be assumed.

The ACA is not perfect, far from it. But it is a guardrail we need in this country, and Republicans insist that we live our lives without it, whether or not the vast majority of Americans want to keep the law.

“Health care is personal to me,” Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said in a recent ad, assailing Trump for his perpetual undermining of the ACA.

Of course it is. Because we will all experience disease or mental illness in our lifetimes, health care is personal to all of us, even if some want to make this into a cold and impersonal game of partisan politics.

The need for healthcare is inevitable, like the sun rising tomorrow. The need for partisan chicanery is not. It is a trivial thing we have allowed to consume our discourse.

But if Republicans complete their reshaping of the Supreme Court, and the court undoes the health care law without a replacement, we can only assume the party’s leaders to be cruel or incompetent. We can leave it to them to choose which adjective best fits.

“Yeah, just like if I want to go to the store and buy a new dress shirt. If I can’t afford that dress shirt, I don’t get to get it,” a Tillis staffer explained to a three-time cancer survivor this year.

That staffer was clueless, Tillis and his advisors might want us to believe. But if anything, he was just blunt. 

If anything, he spoke more honestly about Tillis and some Republicans’ stance on health care than we have ever heard from our senator or our president.


  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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