Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) on Tuesday confronted a top aide to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, expressing frustration over his private dismissals of “Medicare for All” legislation.
Jayapal, a lead author of the plan, H.R. 1384, told Wendell Primus, who serves as Pelosi’s senior health policy adviser, that she did not appreciate what she perceived as his efforts to undermine lawmakers’ bills. Jayapal pressed him to explain reports that he made disdainful remarks about the proposal in separate meetings with health policy researchers and insurance executives.
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“I made it clear that I was not happy,” Jayapal said following a previously scheduled caucus meeting with Primus. “I think it’s really inappropriate for staff representing the Speaker’s office to be undercutting members of our caucus.”
The confrontation followed a POLITICO report that Primus called Medicare for All an unhelpful distraction during a Nov. 30 closed-door meeting with health policy groups, and left some attendees with the impression he wanted them to raise public concerns about the single-payer plan’s risks and downsides.
Pelosi spokesperson Henry Connelly on Monday disputed any suggestion that Primus sought one-sided analyses of single payer, adding “no one has anything to fear from good-faith research on Medicare for All.” On Tuesday, he characterized Primus’ meeting with the CPC as a “valuable family discussion.”
The Intercept previously reported that Primus told Blue Cross Blue Shield executives in December that House Democratic leadership would not endorse Medicare for All, listing objections including its cost and the difficulty of moving to a single-payer system.
Progressive Democrats this year have largely sought to build relationships with more moderate Democratic leaders, opting to hold their fire in hopes of generating support for their priorities. But Jayapal said that some members of the CPC — which includes many of the Democratic Party’s most liberal lawmakers — were “really furious” at Primus over his Medicare for All comments.
“There are mostly good people in staff, but there are some people who start to think they have to protect democracy from elected officials,” said Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), who said Jayapal was “more gracious than I would have been” toward Primus. “I think this may have been one of those instances.”
During the meeting, Primus told progressive members that his remarks were mischaracterized, and that Medicare for All was just a small part of his November discussion with health policy groups, according to Jayapal.
He did not apologize, multiple CPC members told POLITICO, though no apology was explicitly sought.
“I would say it was pretty unapologetic,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said of Primus’ response during the closed-door session. “I think it’s concerning.”
Primus was pressed on other topics including drug pricing during the meeting.
But Jayapal specifically challenged Primus over Medicare for All, pointing to copies of slides that he presented to Blue Cross Blue Shield executives laying out concerns with single-payer health care.
“I wasn’t particularly convinced by the answers,” Jayapal said. “We took some things out of the slides and said, these are some of the things you said — it’s not a matter of perception.”
Jayapal emphasized that she views her relationship with Pelosi as separate from Primus, referencing Pelosi’s January commitment to hold a pair of first-ever hearings on Medicare for All.
“She has made it clear that this isn’t necessarily the fix that she at this moment believes in,” Jayapal said. “But she is respectful of me in leading this effort, and I would expect her staff to at least follow that.”