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Pro-Trump Group Pulls Heller Ad After Backlash

Senate Republicans say ads against members of their own party not productive

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said he would not support proceeding to the health care bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said he would not support proceeding to the health care bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A political group aligned with President Donald Trump is pulling its ad targeting a Republican senator for opposing the GOP health care plan, following a backlash from lawmakers who criticized the group for going after a member of their own party.

America First Policies had television ads on the air targeting one Republican and eight Democrats on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. The group’s decision to target GOP Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada after he said he would not support the bill drew sharp criticism from Senate Republicans. Politico first reported Tuesday evening that the group is pulling the ad and a spokeswoman confirmed the move. 

Heller is arguably the most vulnerable GOP senator running for re-election in 2018, since he is the only Republican running in a state that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won in 2016.

The decision to pull the ad appeared to happen quickly. A spokeswoman for the group said shortly before 4 p.m. that the ads would continue despite Senate leadership’s decision Tuesday to delay a vote on the party’s health care plan. Republican senators then gathered at the White house at 4 p.m. to discuss the health care bill.

“America First Policies is pleased to learn that Senator Dean Heller has decided to come back to the table to negotiate with his colleagues on the Senate bill,” spokeswoman Erin Montgomery said in a statement Tuesday evening.

“We have pulled the ads we released earlier today in Nevada, and we remain hopeful that Senator Heller and his colleagues can agree on what the American people already know: that repealing and replacing Obamacare must happen for America to move forward and be great again,” Montgomery said.

Heller’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But earlier in the day, Montgomery said the group was “deeply disappointed in those senators who couldn’t ‘get to yes’ before the July 4 recess. She had previously said the ads would continue and the group would “assess our options as we move forward.”

America First Policies cited Heller’s willingness to negotiate as the impetus for pulling the ad, but the ad did lead to criticism from Senate Republicans. Some senators signaled Tuesday that the group should think twice before launching similar ads against Republicans who opposed the bill.

“We don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., a former chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “I don’t think that gets us toward 50. “Everybody in our caucus wants to get to yes and public advocacy that moves us forward together is probably more effective.”

Vice President Mike Pence got an earful of complaints about the group’s ads against Heller while he attending the GOP’s weekly lunch on Tuesday, according to a source in the room.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she was “very disappointed” that the group was running ads against Heller.

“I was amazed and appalled to learn that any Republican group would be running negative ads” against him, she said.

“I would prefer they not do that,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who criticized the rushed process and had decided he would not support procedural vote to move onto the bill.

Sen. Ted Cruz also said he could not initially support the bill because it did not adequately address rising premium costs.

Asked if he was concern about backlash from America First Policies, the Texas Republican said, “In order to get this job done we need to come together and unite. We need to unite the Republican conference, honor the promises that we made to the American people.”

The group launched a seven-figure ad buy chiding Heller and released the ad Tuesday. The ad encouraged viewers to call Heller’s office and implore him to support the bill.

Rebecca Adams and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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