Vice President Mike Pence flew to Lexington Wednesday with a message for Congress on healthcare reform: "Now is the time."
Taking a breather from the fresh round of Russia revelations in Washington, the former Indiana governor touched down in the bluegrass on a mission: refocusing the media spotlight on the still-evolving Senate GOP healthcare reform package and pressing Republicans to make good on a crucial campaign promise.
Pence’s motorcade arrived at Bryant’s Rent-All on Red Mile Road to scattered onlookers and chants of “Kill the bill” from more than 100 demonstrators parked behind a barrier. Across the street was one young Trump fan decked out in a "Make America Great Again" hat, 11-year-old Alex Gilbert.
"I was hoping to get my hat signed by Mike Pence, but I can't," he said, managing only a glimpse of the vice president waving as he rounded the corner.
Inside, Pence heard from a selected group of small business owners adversely affected by the signature Obama health law. From rising co-pays to pressures not to expand (ACA employer requirements kick in at 50 workers), the local business leaders lamented the effects of the law on their goals and bottom line.
"We're discouraged from growing because of our healthcare system," one attendee said.
Outside the building, there was an entirely different story on offer. Julie Martinez with Together We Will Bluegrass dismissed the business roundtable as one-sided by design.
"All they're hearing are some horror stories from a few people that don't represent all of Kentucky," she told WUKY. "When you hear real people's stories, it helps you to really understand the context of what we're talking about here."
In wide-ranging, campaign-style formal remarks, Pence touched on everything from military spending to deregulation but avoided any mention of the Russia story unfolding back home. On healthcare, Pence sounded confident yet cognizant that his party has "days, maybe weeks, but not months" to achieve its long-held objective.
"We will keep our promise to all of you and before the summer is out, we will repeal and replace Obamacare," he said, pledging that the Republican plan will free up markets, strip away burdensome taxes, and return power to the states to pursue their own healthcare strategies.
Pence praised the work of Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, even as the two men remain locked into opposing sides of the Senate healthcare debate. While the vice president predicted both will eventually find common ground and pass the revised bill, Paul told reporters via conference call Wednesday that the latest iteration "looks a lot like the old bill, except for it spends more money, taxes more, and does relatively little to assuage the concerns of conservatives."
For now, Kentucky's junior senator says he won't be throwing his support behind the measure.