Government & Politics

By canceling vote, Paul Ryan spares Kevin Yoder, other vulnerable GOP congressmen

U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, an Overland Park Republican, never had to say how he would have voted on the GOP health care plan.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, an Overland Park Republican, never had to say how he would have voted on the GOP health care plan.

At the last minute, U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas got a reprieve: He didn’t have to vote on the Republican health care bill Friday.

Doing so could have meant political trouble, no matter which way he ended up voting.

Yoder, an Overland Park Republican who represents a district that Democrat Hillary Clinton won, hadn’t announced publicly whether he planned to support the bill.

He faced a predicament shared by other Republicans who are up for re-election in blue or purple districts. They were on Paul Ryan’s mind when he told a stunned room full of GOP representatives Friday that the vote had been canceled.

“What the speaker said very clear is, ‘Look, it’s a controversial bill in a lot of districts, so why put people on the record for something that’s not going to happen,’ ” said Rep. Mike Coffman, a Colorado Republican who was in the closed-door meeting.

“He said politically it’s more difficult for certain members than others,” Coffman said. “Why make them pay the price if it’s not going to pass?”

Democrats have targeted Yoder’s seat as one they might be able to tip blue in 2018’s midterm elections.

Yoder is the only member of the Kansas congressional delegation who had not come out in support of the GOP’s American Health Care Act. He was under heavy pressure from hospitals and health care providers in his district to vote against the bill.

The squeeze came from the right, too. Conservative groups such as Heritage Action and the Koch-affiliated group Americans for Prosperity lobbied hard against the legislation.

It wouldn’t have been easy for Yoder to vote no. As a member of the House GOP leadership’s deputy whip team, he was tasked with shoring up support for the bill among his colleagues.

For two weeks after the bill’s introduction, Yoder kept his thoughts on the bill largely private. His office issued written statements saying he was reviewing the complex legislation and that it was “a good start.”

Clay Barker, the executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said Yoder was ambivalent when Barker last spoke to him about a week ago.

Barker said he took that ambivalence “as a sign he was going to vote for it and just didn’t want to say anything.”

Barker said if Yoder voted against the bill, it could be a sign that he plans to run for governor and is putting distance between himself and Trump. If he is planning on staying in Congress “and wants to be part of the team,” he could support it, Barker said.

On Friday morning, Yoder spokesman C.J. Grover said not to expect Yoder to announce a decision before the vote.

As it became clear later Friday that GOP leaders would have trouble securing enough votes to pass the bill, it appeared that Yoder and other “undecided” Republicans would have to cast votes on a bill that stood little chance of passing. The president had made it clear he wanted an up or down vote, win or lose.

Missouri Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver said he didn’t envy Yoder, whom he considers a friend across the aisle.

“On a friendship side, I’m thinking, man, I sure hate that he’s in this spot because that could open the door for a high-powered opponent,” Cleaver said. But for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and House Democratic leadership, which is eying Yoder’s seat, “this is good news to us.”

GOP Rep. Mark Amodei of Nevada pointed out that while everyone focused on how the conservative Freedom Caucus and moderate Tuesday Group would vote, there were many rank-and-file Republicans who don’t belong to either group who had yet to say how they were voting, including members such as Yoder and Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri.

Graves also never said how he’d vote.

“If you look at a swath of people from the West and Midwest who’ve been very quiet ... it’s an interesting group. And I’m talking up and down the seniority list,” Amodei said.

Yoder declined interview requests Friday, both before and after the vote was nixed. He issued a statement after the vote’s cancellation that sounded an optimistic note.

It did not say how he had planned to vote.

“As we’ve seen, finding a compromise will be difficult,” he said in the statement. “But I believe it is possible.”

The Star’s Brian Lowry contributed to this report.

Lindsay Wise: 202-383-6007, @lindsaywise