Home Ralph Northam Democrats, Reporters, Politicos React to Ralph Northam’s Comments on Medicaid Expansion, Bipartisanship,...

Democrats, Reporters, Politicos React to Ralph Northam’s Comments on Medicaid Expansion, Bipartisanship, etc.


This morning’s Washington Post has an interview with Governor-elect Ralph Northam that is stirring up a ton of conversation on social media and, I hear, among Virginia Democratic delegates, State Senators, politicos, etc.  First, a few highlights, followed by some of the reaction that jumped out at me (bolding added by me for emphasis).

  • Perhaps the part stirring up the most discussion: “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.”
  • Northam is promising “not to try to engineer a Democratic advantage in the legislature...It has been widely assumed that Northam is considering such a move, with Republicans holding a 21-19 edge in the state Senate and incoming Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat, in a position to break tie votes. But Northam ruled that out.” Note that there had been a lot of rumors and assumptions floating around that Northam would try to lure a Republican or two from each chamber (e.g., Sen. Frank Wagner) into his administration in an effort to “flip” the Senate and/or House of Delegates. Apparently not.
  • Despite Democrats winning a landslide victory on November 7, including all three statewide offices and a pickup of 15 (or 16, pending recount this week) House of Delegates seats, Northam is stressing bipartisanship, working across the aisle, etc. (“Northam has been meeting with each of the freshman lawmakers, urging them to pull together — and to look beyond partisan differences. His advice to them: ‘Learn the system, number one. And really make good relationships on both sides of the aisle. . . . I’ll try to lead that.'”)

So…some reaction to this from political reporters/observers and from Virginia Democratic politicos and grassroots folks I’ve been chatting with and reading on social media this morning. (note: I reached out several hours ago to Northam’s camp for comment, but so far haven’t heard anything)

  • Jonathan Martin of the NY Times tweeted, “This’ll drive some Dems up wall: Northam sez he won’t poach Rs from lege to create Dem majority, talks M’caid costs”
  • Shareblue writer and long-time Democratic/progressive activist Oliver Willis tweeted, “Boo for this Northam. Quit taking the high road.” Willis followed up in a direct message to me (which he said I could quote), “[Northam]’s making the same mistake Obama did. The lesson of the last 8 years is to be ruthless at the state level not bipartisan…How ironic would it be if T Mac ended up being way more progressive in execution than Northam?”
  • Another Virginia progressive activist commented to me on Northam’s quote about “I will work with the legislature that was elected by the people” was that “a majority of voters in the Commonwealth voted for a Democratic House of Delegates, but the Republicans have a majority because of gerrymandering.” This person added, “The unilateral choice to disarm wins you what?” and “Northam is like someone who gets in a street fight who declares that they will fight only by Queensbury rules as their opponent hits below the belt, pulls out a shank, has friends throwing bottles at him, etc. Sure, pretty damn honorable but hobbles himself, not going to get much done and — in this case — certainly not setting the stage for what the majority of the electorate would like to see happen.”
  • Sam Stein of the Daily Beast/MSNBC tweets: “Northam’s gonna end up screwing over other Democratic candidates who now will have a portion of voters believing that their party promises big and then, immediately, under delivers…have heard from numerous Dems livid with Northam this morning.”
  • Former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau, now of “Pod Save America,” tweets, “I would urge Ralph Northam and his staff to clarify his Medicaid position as fast as possible or he’ll deserve the wrath he gets from Democrats everywhere. He ran on a promise to expand the program to 400,000 Virginians. Period.
  • Politico reporter Dan Diamond tweets, “The next Democratic governor of Virginia talks about Medicaid like a Republican” and retweets, “The same day Northam got elected, Maine voted to expand Medicaid by ballot initiative. It won by 20 points.
  • One leading Virginia Democrat told me “this might as well be called a ‘protect the Republican majority’ plan for 2019.”
  • National Democratic political analyst Daniel Nichanian (“Taniel”) tweeted: “What a start: Northam says he won’t pressure Virginia’s shrunken GOP to expand Medicaid. He’s concerned about “obligating the state to escalate costs” & wants to ‘better define eligibility.’…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…Huge contrast between Northam & Louisiana’s Dem Gov. Edwards, who took decisive action on very first day of his term to expand Medicaid. (Northam may not have same executive powers—but that doesn’t mean he should be warning against costs of expansion!)”
  • Tom Perriello tweeted, “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.”
  • Carrie Pruett, who writes at Blue Virginia and who was a huge door knocker for Ralph Northam during the general election (after supporting Tom Perriello in the primary), tweeted: “If we get a clarification, I’m willing to accept that this is example # 543 of ‘Ralph Northam is very bad at talking about policy’. Which is frustrating to people who care about policy”
  • Virginia progressive activist Morris Meyer tweeted, “Really? We did all this work to sit in the minority? Is this the message Virginia should send to the resistance in 2018 that when we elect folks in a landslide we should semi-adopt a Republican agenda? Completely infuriating…And telling the 15 Delegates-elect that they need to mother-may-I their agenda by the Republicans because the governor won’t give them cover is a tragic message to send to the run-everywhere movement...It also is a flashing indicator that Democrats don’t have the courage of their convictions. In this era when our democracy is being degraded daily by the GOP, our response is to bring a spork to a gunfight.”
  • National progressive, LGBT activist and radio host Joe Sudbay tweets: “Lucy, please, please, please let me kick the football again. I know you’ll be fair this time…Not sure Northam ever got moment we’re in – That ad saying he’d work with Trump. Too typical of Dems to ignore their base and pretend bipartisanship exists when GOP destroyed it. He should rewatch Gillespie’s ads about him…Yes , voters are ‘looking for a moral compass right now.’ That’s why you won big. Your Voters know the GOP won’t ever provide it. You should know that, too. Watch Gillespie’s ads about you as a reminder.”
  • And finally, a Virginia Dem politico told me that it is “politically incompetent” not to try to flip the Virginia House of Delegates or State Senate, that “this is a miswielding of truly historic political power in Virginia…Northam won by 9 points, massive Democratic House of Delegates gains — negotiate from strength!” Instead, this person notes, Northam “is acting like there has been no change in the legislature; I bet [Republican “Speaker Designee”] Kirk Cox is laughing at him.” On Medicaid, this person says that “now the GOP position has been publicly espoused by a Dem gov-elect who just won by 9 points,” that “this reveals Ralph’s true beliefs about health care” and that Northam “will now try to pass one of these hybrid plans that GOP governors have been enacting instead of real expansion from the first go at it.” I asked whether this person could imagine either Tim Kaine or Mark Warner acting like this if they had just been elected by 9 points and had a near-even General Assembly, and they responded, “I can’t imagine they would have come out in a pre-inaugural interview and espoused the Republican position on arguably the top issue they ran on…”
  • Del.-elect Lee Carter tweeted,”Voters were clear in Nov. They want action on healthcare. Medicaid expan. is the bare minimum. It IS the compromise. Statement to follow.”

My view is that actions speak louder than words, of course, and it’s possible (let’s hope) that Northam “misspoke,” but that the WaPo interview was not encouraging at all. What do you think?

P.S. See below for video of Ralph Northam campaigning hard on Medicaid expansion (“We will move forward on expanding Medicaid so 400,000 hard-working Virginians, including 15,000 veterans…can get the healthcare they deserve”). Among other things, Northam declared, “If there’s a business person out there who wants to give away 5 million dollars a day [in Medicaid expansion money] to their competitors, I will tell you as a neurologist, they need their heads examined.”

UPDATE #1: Jay Ford, who is very close politically with Ralph Northam, responds on Facebook: “Ralph Northam has spent his entire career advocating civility & bipartisanship…He’s serious about it folks & Virginians should be proud of that. Finding a way to help expand and improve healthcare to all Virginians right away by reaching across the aisle is a move to help citizens immediately. This is the kind of leadership our country wants to believe is possible again… So lets see how it fares before we start advocating for trench warfare)”

UPDATE #2: Ralph Northam just tweeted, “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.” Which is good, but doesn’t mesh with what he said in the WaPo interview…

  • dave schutz

    I thought Northam sounded very good when I read this article in the Post. Those who worked in the trenches and knocked on a thousand doors naturally feel that they won the election and that it should have spectacular consequences for the Eeevil Reeps – I tend to see it more as our not having squandered the gift which the Trump Revulsion gave. Virginia is not California, and if Northam were to attempt California type initiatives I think the pendulum would swing back again, and hard. Big oscillations are difficult and expensive for the citizens, if he can put in place popular incremental steps they will be more likely to survive.

    • A_Siegel

      The issue isn’t ‘big oscillations’ but going in with eyes open to political realities.

      1. Rather the BIPARTISAN UBER ALLES (e.g., doing bipartisan for bipartisan sake), Governor-Elect Northam could have invited in a group of legislators mixed from both parties with a strong public statement: I am the Governor for all Virginians and will push for good policies, good ideas that will help Virginians no matter the political party associated with the idea’s originator. Do some leg work, in advance, to be able to come out from that meeting with (let’s say) 5 ideas, including at least a few associated with Republican names. Abandoning the stupid siren’s call of “bipartisan” and focus, instead, on good governance.

      2. The seeming abandonment of working hard for the Medicaid expansion is at such odds with the message in the campaign.

      3. As to messaging, have we all forgotten candidate Northam’s efforts to ‘out progressive’ Tom Perriello in the primary. Reading the Post today is a massive contrast to that messaging.

      4. And, if we want to focus on ‘the voters’, take a look here: https://wtop.com/virginia/2017/11/big-vote-totals-dont-convert-to-wins-for-house-democrats/ “Add up the votes in all 100 House districts, and Democrats beat Republicans by a 10-point margin, 54 percent to 44 percent.” I do not think that “the voters” ever spoke wanting to have the Virginia Republican Party gerrymander the House to make it so that the Ds would have to win by 10 percent to have a shot at having a (tiny) minority in the House.

      5. The article reads of unilateral disarmament. Hmmm … Senate Majority Leader McConnell is certainly (NOT!) treating the Democrats in minority as he demanded they treat him/Senate GOP when they were in minority. Hmmm … How many Democratic Party elected officials were in the writing of the Tax Bill in either the House or Senate and how many were in the Conference Committee between the two. Sure, keep fighting by Queensbury Rules when your opponent won their last fight wearing brass knuckles, the fight before that hitting below the belt, and has just pulled out a switchblade. It might feel good, somehow, to be ‘above it all’ but you’re doing nothing to advance actual better policy and ceding ground to those pursuing destructive agendas.

      5. And, well, I think that you fundamentally misread the reality of politics today — this is not a situation of ‘searching for’ that elusive middle but of acting to mobilize the base, get people out to vote for moving forward with an agenda. Get elected promising being ‘the most progressive’ (the primary message), of going to work all out to secure Medicaid expansion, to being ready/able to stand up to Donald Trump, to … and seemingly abandoning all that before being sworn into office does not bode well for generating that enthusiasm in further elections.

      This article suggests significant political malfeasance … and is distressing to those who care about partisan issues AND to those who wish to have Virginian move forward into a better, healthier, cleaner, more prosperous future.

    • A_Siegel

      Northam mailer from primary:

      “Virginia Democrats Agree! Dr. Ralph Northam is the progressive choice for governor”.


      Right now, the Governor-Elect sounds everything but “progressive” (and certainly more Blue Dog).


    When there were at least five or six Harry (not Hal) Parrish type Republicans, this type of approach worked. Ralph will, of course, find that this type of Republican doesn’t exist, or is too afraid of Republican primary voters to act on bipartisan instincts. And, if cherry picking a few Republicans from the General Assembly for posistions on his administration were wrong to flip the General Assembly, then Republicans were wrong when Jim Gilmore did it. It will win him plaudits from those who like bipartisanship, but probably won’t get any bipartisanship. Hopefully, when that becomes clear, Ralph will be ready to play hardball.

    • Tim Kaine tried to work with the Republican-controlled legislature when he was governor, but generally speaking, Republicans didn’t want to do that. Same thing with McAuliffe. Same thing at the national level with Barack Obama. Sensing a pattern here?

  • Alec

    Just like a friend told me before the election: “Ralph is the first, and last Republican I’ll ever vote for.”

  • LHarrisonF

    There have been some reasonable questions raised by Ben and others about the party’s tactics in essentially pre-conceding the recounts and throwing up their hands at the possibility of adequately resolving the broken election in Fredericksburg. This conciliatory tone fits into that approach, undermining in my eyes the argument by Toscano for a power sharing agreement in the House. Jay is right to stress that civility and an openness to work with everyone, regardless of party, has been at the heart of Northam’s career. The larger problem is an inability to resolve these discussions without collapsing everything into binary extremes. So we get people who claim that Northam is right to take this approach because “Virginia is not California,” as if Medicaid expansion is something that only deep blue states can discuss. Or the argument that Northam’s desire to reach across the aisle is a complete and total sellout of everything the Democratic Party stands for.

    Northam is showing, once again, to be the better person in extending an olive branch to Republicans, when no such olive branch has been extended by the GOP after the shellacking they received in November. We all know this is going to end poorly, and I don’t think this was a brilliant political move by Northam. But I don’t think there are a ton of other viable options for how else Northam can govern.

    • My understanding from talking to people had been that the Dems’ strategy would be to hold all their own members and win over 2, 3, 4 whatever Republicans on particular issues, like Medicaid expansion. Not sure why that wouldn’t work…

      • old_redneck

        Won’t work. The Republicans know that adopting Medicaid expansion will give Democrats a victory. That’s why we don’t have expanded Medicare. That’s why Republicans 100% opposed the ACA — they don’t care who gets screwed, just so they deny a Democratic victory.

        We are in a war only we’re afraid to admit it and act like it.

    • A_Siegel

      There are so many things to dissect in the Post article and Northam’s ‘approach’.

      Governing with civility, however, doesn’t require ‘bipartisanship’.

      Rather than emphasizing bipartisanship for bipartisanship’s sake, Northam could make clear that civility/’better person’ by being willing to hold regular discussion sessions with mixed groups of legislators, with both Ds and Rs in the room / together. To say, “I plan to work to have open lines of communications to help find those spaces and items where we can all agree to work together quickly together … even while there are other arenas where there are more significant differences about paths forward and where we will be fighting toe-to-toe about what to do to help Virginians.’

      One can be “civil’ in the discourse, even while being partisan.

    • old_redneck

      NO, it was not a “brilliant political move” by Northam. It was dumb.

      Only we Democrats will interpret Northam’s actions as bipartisan. Republicans will interpret his actions as weakness and they’ll attack with everything they have.

      Once again, we Democrats have proven ourselves to be easily-manipulated wimps.

      Sorry I voted for Northam. Won’t happen again.

      • “Sorry I voted for Northam. Won’t happen again”

        Given that Virginia has a one-term governor, that’s a vow you’re likely to be able to keep. 😉

      • A_Siegel

        Look, when it came to the binary choice in November, not voting for Northam was — implicitly — a vote for enablers of Nazis in the street. Considering the insanity that is the 21st century GOP, I am absolutely not sorry that I voted for Ralph Northam and that I encouraged/worked to get others to do so.

        Talking primary, well, that is different story.

        • Agreed on the general election, that was an absolute no brainer.

  • I guess I’m in the minority to think that it’s good to encourage bi-partisanship and not “force” a flip. That doesn’t mean that he hasn’t reached out to or those on the right (who are worried about their own seat down the road) haven’t reached out to Governor-elect Northam for an availability. If that occurs, a flip could take place with Ralph’s fingerprints on it. I’m looking forward to see what his transition team has in store.

    • old_redneck

      Bi-partisianship requires compromise and cooperation by BOTH parties. If you think Republicans at any level will engage in bi-partisianship, you’re smoking something funny. Never happen.

      There’s one and only one way to deal with Republicans . . . just like you deal with a mad dog . . . shoot him down in the street. Metaphorically, of course.

      • I guess we’ll agree to disagree on that reasoning.

        • Bradley Purcell

          Well, old_red has history on his side. For a generation now, Republicans on the state and national levels have refused any cooperation at all with Democrats, even when Dems offered compromise based on what had been Republican ideas: like using Romneycare for healthcare, and cap and trade to control climate change. They even refused to cooperate on stimulus (previously a bipartisan mission) to save the economy in 2009. There is no good reason for Gov-elect Northam or anyone else to think that today’s Republicans will offer any kind of cooperation merely because they lost an election, or merely because a former Republican is doing the asking. Maybe if they remember that Republicans in Ohio, Indiana, and elsewhere have expanded Medicaid to good effect, they will suddenly discover a desire to compromise.

  • Sharon Ponton

    Ralph is a Republican…he voted for George Bush twice, remember? And Virginia Republicans attempted to bring him over to their side. They don’t do that with progressive Democrats.

    We could have had a true progressive as our Governor, but establishment Dems wanted Northam instead…a Reoublican.

    • notjohnsmosby

      The only voting record of Ralph’s that really matters is voting record as a State Senator and as LG. Perrielo was very centrist his first year in Congress, so if you give Tom the benefit of the doubt as to who he truly is politically, then do the same for Ralph.

      • Sharon Ponton

        Ralph has backtracked on his campaign promises already. And he would never give a straight answer about pipelines and fossil fuels. Forgive me if I never had an iota of faith in him that he’d represent my interests…

        • notjohnsmosby

          Fine. You presumably voted against Ralph in the primary and lost. I don’t know if you voted for him for governor, but regardless, you should base politicians on the votes they’ve cast, not the bullshit that comes out of their mouths. Ralph has a history of voting fairly liberal while talking centrist. Tom has a history of voting centrist while talking liberal.

          I don’t mind Ralph taking a swing at the bipartisan approach for a short period of time. Several Republicans in the Senate are for Medicaid expansion, so it will start there. Several Republican Delegates are somewhat easy gets for expansion as well. As long as Dems remain united, it will very likely happen now. If Republicans want to call it something than Medicaid expansion, then fine, they can save face and vote for it and call it whatever they want.

  • Adam M

    This is why we need to stop electing middle-of-the-road and conservative Democrats on a progressive platform. They are delusional and still think that there is a partnership to be on the right as it currently exists. But then again we all kind of new Ralph Northam was a softball conservative before we chose him in the primary. Winner Democrats going to learn that standing by your platform and having his spine= winning elections? It’s no wonder the left doesn’t want to vote for Democrats anymore. Can’t be trusted

  • Philip Whitman

    I think it’s worth trying to flip both the House and Senate, so I disagree with Northam on that point.

    However, absent Democratic majorities, I get where he’s coming from. There are not many avenues to force a GOP-controlled General Assembly to do much of anything. We’ve seen ample evidence of that the last four years.

  • old_redneck

    In 2019, the entire VA Senate and House of Delegates will be up for election. If we can pick up a few seats in each house, we will control redistricting — because — (1) census is in 2020; (2) redistricting is in 2021; (3) elections for HOD, Gov, Lt Gov and AG will be at the end of 2021.

    Northam needs to focus on gaining Democratic majorities in the General Assembly in 2019 so we control redistricting. There’s no gentlemanly way to do this.

    Remember: Shortly after his election to the Senate, Northam almost switched parties.

  • Classic Penguin

    This is a time when fair play is to kick back, not try to get along. Republicans haven’t tried to get along in a very LONG time. The only thing they understand is getting mud slung at their faces. The hand shake will turn into a throw over the shoulder followed by their nasty grins.

  • Jerel C. Wilmore

    Northam is setting a trap. He knows what is and is not likely obtainable in the GA as currently constituted, he just prefers that the Republicans take responsibility for the outcome so he can say he tried.

    2018 is going to be historically bad for the GOP, and Northam is going to allow them to keep digging.

    I have never understood those who make a refusal to try and do the impossible some kind of litmus test.

  • Classic Penguin

    Sorry, Ralph, but you need to read this article. These are NOT ordinary times. It will take a big lift to bring our country back. https://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/how-democracy-dies

  • Classic Penguin
  • Another Scott

    It’s very early, but we saw talk like this from Northam during the primary campaign. E.g. he pooh-poohed lots of sensible progressive policy proposals from Perriello – saying they wouldn’t get through the legislature (so there was no sense in even talking about it). I found it infuriating at the time.

    Northam is a good politician and knows how to win state-wide in Virginia. Tom didn’t find a way to get enough support. But ultimately what matters is not winning elections but implementing policies that make people’s lives better.

    Ralph has an historic opportunity here. Here’s hoping he doesn’t blow it because he’s unwilling to actually fight for sensible policies. If he does decide to be an above it all, friendly, bipartisan guy, who doesn’t want to offend his Republican friends, I hope Tom and Democratic voters take note and try again to move in a more progressive direction in 2021.


  • Kenneth Ferland

    The only reaching across the isle that should be done is to grab arms and twist them. Every party twists the arms of it’s own members, the opposition should be treated likewise.

    P.S. I supported Perrielo in the primary.

  • RobertColgan

    These people need to allow their emotions to subside…..this whole country is running on anger/hate overload and the Republicans and Hairbrained find it marvelously distracting to keep the populace in constant alarm, as HL Mencken described.

    Northam isn’t placating as much he’s setting a gentler, more companionable/collaborative position …..he knows that adversarial politics aren’t nearly as productive — schoolyard line-toeing arguments they mostly are.

    Northam knows the failure to expand Medicaid in VA and every other state that’s refused it has been a direct slap in the face of those who need and can least afford medical attention……..he’s a physician who cares about his patients: he’s not about to turn his back on VA’s sick.

    Northam also knows that until spiraling medical costs are addressed it’s going to become a fiscal nightmare down the road for States that have limited resources (unlike the Fed which simply prints more Monopoly money whenever they want to and give it to the Federal Reserve to lend back to the taxpayers with interest) resulting in real budgetary struggles and program cuts. He’s taking a cautious, prudent approach.

    Given that we already have a puerile egocentric bully in the WH, we don’t need any more such people at the State level.
    Northam strikes me as a man who will be consistently thoughtful and fair.
    I will be surprised if he isn’t a good governor.

    • C Pruett

      ‘Explaining what Ralph Northam really meant’ Internet is my favorite Internet.

      He can make any kind of unclear statement — with this, with the pipelines, with sanctuary cities, with his Bush votes — and folks will rush in to put the best/ worst spin on it. I used to just assume bad messaging but maybe letting people believe what they want to believe is a strategy.

      • Can’t you at least wait until AFTER THE ELECTION to start criticizing our party’s nominee??? Also, Ralph Northam is FAR better than Ed Gillespie, can’t you see that?!?! And with that, this parody/snark is complete. 😉

  • Harry

    My God, doesn’t Northam get it. The Republicans are the party of hate and evil, they thwarted McAuliffes efforts to expand Medicaid, have reasonable gun control (universal background checks), sued him for his restoration of rights process. All this in spite of appointing right wingers to critical cabinet positions (HHR, DMV, DSS, Sec of T). Cox just thinks you’re another weak D that can be bullied by the party of hate and evil. Ralph, time to stand up and fight back. Appoint no Republicans to anything, the ones that McAuliffe installed fire every one of them. Pick off a few greedy Rs in the House and Senate who long for higher pensions, and there are a bunch of them and get on with a progressive administration. We worked too hard in Prince William County to elect Democrats with the expectation we would not be disregarded.

  • Paul Goode

    All you need to know:

    ‘“I’m very encouraged by the comments of the governor-elect,” Republican Del. S. Chris Jones, House Appropriations chairman.’