WASHINGTON ― Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam drew the ire of progressives on Sunday, who accused him of walking back ― before even taking office ― his promise to expand Medicaid for more low-income people.
In an interview published Saturday by The Washington Post, Northam said he would focus on governing in a bipartisan way and would not try to engineer a Democratic advantage in the Virginia House of Delegates, where Republicans currently hold a one-seat majority, by poaching GOP lawmakers for plum Cabinet positions. Democrats erased what had been a much greater GOP majority in the chamber as part of a rout by the party in state elections across the country last month, which many observers saw as a referendum on President Donald Trump and his agenda.
Northam, a moderate Democrat who twice voted for George W. Bush in presidential elections, also told the Post he is concerned about the fiscal impact of Medicaid in his state:
Northam said he has no plans to try to force Republicans to accept a broad expansion of Medicaid. Instead, he has begun talks with lawmakers in both parties about overhauling the state’s Medicaid system to expand access to health care while better defining eligibility to control costs.
“So I look forward to . . . seeing how we can provide better service and at the same time cut costs” through “managed-care Medicaid,” he said in the interview.
Northam’s comments drew an angry response from progressives on Twitter, including the man he defeated in his state’s gubernatorial Democratic primary, Tom Perriello.
Blocking Medicaid expansion was a major reason so many Republicans lost their House seats in VA this year. Full expansion should be bi-partisan, and every legislator in Richmond should have to cast a public vote before 2019 on a policy that is morally right & good for VA economy.— Tom Perriello (@tomperriello) December 17, 2017
Republicans barely win based on various flukes and act like they won a mandate and don’t solicit Democratic ideas. Democrats win by a landslide, and.... https://t.co/sEQXYv8pBx— Ben Yelin (@byelin) December 17, 2017
This is not surprising given Northam's past profile. But quite the message to send to energized base that gave him such a big win—esp. as few things have energized progressives more this year than Medicaid.— Taniel (@Taniel) December 17, 2017
Former Hillary Clinton press secretary Brian Fallon was among those who weighed in, calling Northam’s comments a “self-own:”
Self-own, in 3 steps:— Brian Fallon (@brianefallon) December 17, 2017
1. Campaign on expanding Medicaid
2. Win sweeping victory
3. Voluntarily retreat from campaign promisehttps://t.co/WfyV2iJuSt
It’s possible that Northam was describing a version of Medicaid expansion that was passed in Republican-controlled states such as Arkansas, Indiana, or Nevada. Democrats, however, will likely argue that his decisive victory over Republican Ed Gillespie ― a margin on nine percentage points ― does not justify him moving to the center so quickly.
Northam addressed criticism over his comments on Twitter:
I have and will continue to advocate for Medicaid expansion because it is a no-brainer for Virginia families, our budget, and our economy. We can also come together on smart policy choices that will allow us to deliver better care at lower cost.— Ralph Northam (@RalphNortham) December 17, 2017
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.