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California's House Republicans voted for the Obamacare repeal that seems dead. Here's what they're saying now

California's House Republicans voted for the Obamacare repeal that seems dead. Here's what they're saying now
Protesters don hospital gowns and surgical masks outside Rep. Darrell Issa's Vista office in May to protest his vote on the GOP healthcare bill. (Christine Mai-Duc / Los Angeles Times)

More than half of California's 14 House Republicans face potentially tough battles in next year's midterm election, and while some of them wavered until the last minute, all of them voted for the House healthcare plan in May.

But in the wee hours of Friday morning, the Senate failed in its apparent last-ditch effort to pass any kind of replacement for Obamacare.

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For now, it looks as if congressional leaders are moving on from their healthcare reform efforts, but the Californians' vote for a plan that would have taken health insurance from as many as 1 in 3 Californians is sure to be kept alive by the dozens of challengers who have signed up to run against them.

Democrats are plotting to use the healthcare vote as a cudgel against vulnerable Republicans in the same way votes for Obamacare were used to sweep Democrats out of the majority in 2010. And winning at least some of California's GOP seats is crucial to Democratic efforts to win back the House.

The party blasted out news releases Friday saying the representatives "can't turn back time and undo the damaging vote they took to kick 23 million Americans off their health insurance and jack up premiums for millions more. ... [They] own the Republican health care disaster and it will haunt them in 2018."

At the time of the House vote, several of California's Republican representatives said they were keeping their years-long promise to repeal President Obama's signature law. Others said they were trying to move the process forward with the expectation the Senate would make the bill better.

Now they say they're disappointed the Senate couldn't agree on a way to repeal Obamacare, but none is too concerned about the political effects of voting for the House version, which polls have shown was very unpopular.

Rep. Jeff Denham of Turlock initially said he couldn't back the House bill, but voted for it after getting a commitment from GOP leaders to work on access to healthcare, especially in rural areas. He said Friday he was frustrated the Senate couldn't pass anything.

"I expect to see this place work," Denham said. "I'm certainly disappointed that they weren't able to move the ball forward."

Video shows how California's Republicans votes on Obamacare repeal

Hours before the Senate's failed vote, Denham held a campaign fundraiser in Washington for his 50th birthday with top House leaders. Denham has drawn at least eight opponents in a district where he's frequently challenged, but said he wasn't worried about being attacked for his healthcare vote.

"Yes, [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi will always target me and we will continue to focus on our district issues, and I think when I do that we've been very successful by a wide margin," Denham said. "I certainly don't vote because Nancy Pelosi sends people into my district; I focus on my district."

Denham said he expects to meet with doctors, hospitals and patients during the August recess to talk about other potential healthcare legislation.

He and fellow vulnerable Central Valley Republican Rep. David Valadao of Hanford introduced legislation this week to increase the number of doctor training positions available in areas with high Medicaid populations, something that fits the description of their rural districts, where residents saw some of the biggest benefits from the Medi-Cal expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

Valadao said he was disappointed by the Senate's failure, and believes Republicans still have an obligation to do something about Obamacare.

"We do have to have some legislation move forward," he said. "Hopefully we'll get an opportunity to get something done soon."

Prior to the House vote, Rep. Darrell Issa of Vista had said the bill could be improved and he was on the fence about how to vote. He'd barely scraped out a win last year by fewer than 2,000 votes, and more opponents were lining up to challenge him again.

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He said he ultimately voted for it because he had faith the Senate would send back a better bill. Issa even nudged Senate leadership twice to consider his idea to offer federal employees' healthcare plans to more or all Americans. He said in a statement Friday that he'll keep pushing colleagues on that idea.

"It's disappointing, but we can't give up now. Obamacare is still failing and we must bring young adults, families, small business and all Americans relief. We need to keep up the fight," he said.

Rep. Steve Knight of Palmdale, the last Republican congressman in Los Angeles County, said the House had done its part and it's still up to the Senate to decide what happens next. Asked about the political ramifications of his vote, he laughed.

"Democrats targeted my district way before any vote I made," said Knight, who was among the members expected to be greeted by planned healthcare protests in their hometowns as the House embarked on a monthlong recess Friday. "This was a very difficult vote, everybody knows that, but we're going to move forward."

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale), whose Northern California seat is not considered to be at risk, said members should confidently explain their positions to voters.

"We're here to make hard votes, [we]'re here to make votes of conscience. Some guys and gals will complain, 'Oh, now we're out on record with a hard vote' — you know the guys in the tougher districts — but at the end of it, you have a reason that you are supposed to be here," LaMalfa said. "If you can't justify your position outside the politics, then why are you here?"

Follow @sarahdwire on Twitter

Read more about the 55 members of California's delegation at latimes.com/politics

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