McConnell defends all-male health care working group: ‘Everybody’s at the table’

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that “nobody” is being excluded from his conference’s meetings on health care after Democrats and even some members of his own party criticized him for assembling a working group on the issue consisting of 13 men and no women.

“Well the working group that counts is all 52 of us, and we’re having extensive meetings … every day,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday, referencing the 52 Republicans in the Senate. “Nobody’s being excluded based upon gender.”

The health care working group met Tuesday and invited Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia to speak about her concerns about how the bill would affect people on Medicaid in her state. At the health care meeting of all Republican senators directly after that, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, spoke about high-risk pools.

But Democrats continued to seize on the fact that the working group itself didn’t include any of the five Republican women in the Senate, two of whom sit on a committee that oversees the health care system.

“To not have women in the smaller group that we know is making many of the real decisions is a very, very bad thing,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters, adding that the House health care bill “discriminates” against women by allowing states to let insurers opt out of maternity care and some other types of coverage. “It’s just so wrong.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said, “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.”

Some Republicans acknowledged it would have been better to include more women in the initial discussion. “It would have been good to have diversity from a gender perspective,” said Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., on Tuesday. Scott, who is also not a member of the group, said the conference’s five female Republicans would be invited to come to the group’s meetings from then on.

The working group also locks out several of the members of the Senate who have drafted health care legislation in the past: Sens. Collins, Bill Cassidy and Rand Paul, among them. The group consists of the Senate Republican leadership, the heads of relevant committees, and Sens. Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton and Rob Portman.

The kerfuffle over the all-male group has been an unwelcome distraction for McConnell, who faces the daunting task of getting at least 50 of his members to agree on an overhaul of the health care system that the Republican Party would likely own for years— assuming it could be reconciled with the House bill in a form that would pass both chambers and be signed by President Trump. The GOP leader, renowned for his political skills, can only afford to lose two of his members and still pass the bill through reconciliation, a process that bypasses the 60-vote threshold to end a filibuster.

Senators agreed in the meeting not to set a deadline for their process, and the White House…

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