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'Heed The Protests' Over Obamacare, 'National Review' Editor Says


House Republicans say they'll soon introduce their legislative plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. But before they do, many lawmakers will return to their districts and to public meetings where constituents have been openly anxious and angry about possible changes to their health insurance. Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, the eminent conservative journal, joins us from New York.

Rich, thanks for being with us.

RICHARD LOWRY: Thanks so much for having me. Good morning.

SIMON: You've had some advice to conservatives about the demonstrations we've seen at these public meetings.

LOWRY: Yeah. I don't think they should ignore and dismiss them the way we saw Democrats do with the tea party protests in 2009. In fact, the parallels are uncanny. The scenes look very similar with these raucous town hall meetings. And in 2009, you had the White House press secretary and others saying that these were AstroTurf protests, paid for; they were mobs; they were agitators. And Democrats paid a steep price for ignoring that grassroots opposition, and I don't think Republicans should make the same mistake this time around.

SIMON: Is there a lesson that occurs to me about this that it's easy to remain ideologically pure when you're in the opposition. But governing is difficult.

LOWRY: Yes. And you've sort of forgotten. Over the last six years, we haven't really had any significant legislation go through Congress. And we're being reminded now what a messy, complex process it is, how it always takes longer than you think and how things always seem, you know, on the verge of collapse.

So I think Republicans in the House are on the right track. I think President Trump pushed them in the right direction. They couldn't just repeal. They needed to have an answer on replace. They need to be able to, when people show up to these meetings and say you're cutting me off health insurance or Obamacare saved my life 'cause I have a pre-existing condition, they need to have an answer for that. And they're setting about trying to get one, which I think is the right approach.

SIMON: Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, do you consider President Trump to be a conservative?

LOWRY: He's not a conservative. He's a populist and a nationalist. Now, there's a lot of overlap within - with conservatism. Those are tendencies that have always been present in post-war American conservatism. Plus, he has a tactical alliance with conservatives and especially the Christian right in this country. And that's why you saw the Gorsuch nomination. But he not an ideological conservative.

SIMON: Well, where do you depart from him?

LOWRY: Well, trade is one area. Government spending will presumably be another. You know, he's talked - people around him have talked about the possibility of a trillion-dollar infrastructure program, which is the sort of thing we opposed when President Obama supported it, and we'll stay consistent on that. But we haven't actually seen the infrastructure program or any concrete proposal. So that's one of the areas where there'll be a very interesting dance and a lot of tension with the conservatives in Congress.

SIMON: Well - and what about praise for Vladimir Putin and a few other what I think a lot of people would consider to be despotic leaders?

LOWRY: Completely appalling. You know - what he said about we kill people too, when he has been confronted with people asking about him about Vladimir Putin's brutal tendencies has been completely appalling. And we oppose redoing the reset, which he seems to be determined to do, although we haven't seen anything concrete yet. We've just heard these statements from him for a year or more.

SIMON: But - in the half a minute we have left, you believe that he can be the instrument of change you would support for the Affordable Care Act?

LOWRY: Absolutely. I mean, there's a possibility of big things. He could get big three big victories in Congress, conceivably - Gorsuch confirmed, which seems very likely to happen; Obamacare repealed and replaced; and major tax reform. I think the latter is the toughest and the most complex. But these are things that are definitely possible.

SIMON: Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review.

Thanks very much for being with us.

LOWRY: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.