Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has prioritized reaching out to black Americans, but two of the three Black Republican Trailblazers he honored Tuesday suggested that Republicans face an uphill battle in appealing to black voters if the party continues to be identified with opposition to Obamacare.
"It's not a perfect bill, it has a lot of flaws, but I think we need to work on it to improve it, yes," Trailblazer award recipient Louis Sullivan, Health and Human Services secretary during George H.W. Bush's presidency, told the Washington Examiner when asked after the ceremony at the Howard Theater in Washington if he likes Obama's health care overhaul.
He praised Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio, for expanding Medicaid under Obamacare. "I agree with that, because, as you know, we have 47 million uninsured Americans prior to this law," Sullivan said. "That's more than 10 percent of our population. And a disproportionate number of those people are low-income, poor, so you can't really be blocking programs that people depend upon and then expect them to support you."
Sullivan views Obamacare -- he rejected that label as "incendiary," using instead the formal name, the Affordable Care Act -- as an antidote to the problem of the public providing free health care to uninsured people who go to the emergency room whenever they have a problem. He suggested that the health care law would provide care more efficiently.
"That certainly is a good Republican value: We want to see people succeed, we want to see them healthier, we want to see them educated, but at the same time we want to be sure that we provide these in a very efficient way," he said.
One of the other two recipients, William Brooks, who also served in the first Bush presidency, said he thinks Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act is an impediment to gaining African-American votes.
"I believe it is very important, in order to be able to give health care to a great portion of our population," Brooks, a member of the board of directors of United American Healthcare Corporation, told the Examiner. "I think it's a great act and I think the Republicans should get in there and figure out what are the pieces of it that we like, that are good, and how can we make that work, rather than trying to kill the whole thing."
Joseph Phillips, who emceed the event, disagreed, taking a more conventional Republican stance.
"I would say 'no', because as Americans are sadly discovering, they were lied to by Democrats, they were lied to by this president, and people are not experiencing the giddy joy running through the streets that was promised -- and black people are especially suffering," said Phillips, a fellow at Colorado Christian University's Centennial Institute who is best known for his role on "The Cosby Show."
"I don't think that anybody but somebody who has been asleep the last five [or] six years [thinks it] has been a boon to the black community; it simply has not," he continued. "[President Obama is] a Democrat ... and Democrats have been failing at this for generations. So, for some reason, people thought, 'Well, he's black, so the black community will [flourish] under him.' No, he's a Democrat and the black community doesn't do well under Democrats."
The RNC also honored Judge Sara Harper, the first black woman to sit by assignment on the Ohio Supreme Court, who was not available to comment on Obamacare.