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The two 'how dare you' moments from last night's Sixth District debate

In last night’s Sixth District debate with Democrat Jon Ossoff, a single extended exchange provided Republican Karen Handel with two “how dare you” moments.

In all likelihood, both candidates walked away pleased with the results. Handel because it showed her feisty. And Ossoff because, by definition, outrage moments show you on the defensive.

A pair of issues were woven together under the general heading of health care. One topic was the U.S. House Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and whether the GOP replacement would protect those with pre-existing conditions.

Then there was Handel’s 2012 role as senior vice president of public policy for the Susan G. Komen Foundation when organization attempted to cut off funds to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer-screening. (Komen retreated, and Handel made a high-profile exit.)

Watch the video posted by Georgia Democrats here:

Let’s dissect the latter issue first.

Ossoff raised the topic, pointing to a recent Insider post that said Handel "engineered" the attempt by the Komen Foundation to disassociate itself from Planned Parenthood because of its abortion services. The Republican objected to that word. “You can't believe everything you read in the press,” she said.

She called it an action by the group's executive director and its board, which in part echoes what she wrote in her book on her time with Komen, “Planned Bullyhood.” Said the candidate:

“For anyone to think that, as one individual employee, I was able to wave a magic wand and make something like that happen – it was a business decision, ultimately decided by the board of Komen…


“I have held the hands of friends who have fought breast cancer and other types of reproductive cancer. And I will not – not --  be lectured by you or anyone else.”

“It’s a straight-forward question. You either led the decision to defund breast-cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood -- you were central to the decision, as you claimed several years ago. You either engineered the decision or you didn’t. Which is it?

The answer has always been a nuanced one for Handel. Here’s a quote from a 2012 interview with one of your Insiders shortly after her departure from Komen:

"I was tasked with identifying options that would allow us to move to neutral ground around this," Handel said. "I embrace the fact that I led the process."

In 2013, as a candidate for U.S. Senate, Handel spoke to a group of Peach County Republicans:  

“There’s only one person running for the United States Senate who has had to actually stand up for her pro-life convictions. And that is me. I was at the center of the Komen Foundation/Planned Parenthood issue….


“I spent the last year going around the country, talking to organizations about how we can better address the issue of federal funding to Planned Parenthood – in order to strip it out of the budget. In a way that we can actually get there.”

Politifact has given a “mostly true” rating to an attack leveled by Ossoff at Tuesday's debate on Handel and her time at Komen.

Now to the topic of health insurance and coverage for pre-existing conditions. Ossoff said that by supporting the bill passed by House Republicans, Handel had endorsed an end to insurance protections for those with pre-existing conditions. Which brought up Handel's other opportunity for outrage:

“My sister has a pre-existing condition. She was born without an esophagus. And for you to suggest that I would do anything that I would do anything that would negatively affect her is absolutely outrageous and unacceptable.


“…The bill in the Senate right now – it provides more protection for individuals with pre-existing conditions. No, you would not be able to be rejected from a plan. If you have a plan on the Obamacare exchange, or another plan, you cannot be charged more. Nor can you be told that you can’t have a plan.”

Ossoff scoffed at that. “If they can’t afford the plan, that’s a useless protection,” he said.

From a recent Politifact report on the topic:

The AHCA does keep the requirement that people with pre-existing conditions must be offered health insurance. But it would drop Obamacare’s rules capping how much extra those people can be charged…


[I]t appears people wouldn’t pay wildly different rates due only to their gender, which is also the case under Obamacare. But by contrast, insurers would only have to provide access to coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. It says nothing about the rates of that coverage.


That means if the AHCA passes, it would allow for people with pre-existing conditions to be charged more per year for their insurance coverage – possibly to the tune of thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars more per year, some studies have found.


The exact amount might differ regionally, since some states might not allow the higher rates.


Speaking of Karen Handel, The Marietta Daily Journal included this tidbit in a story about one of her weekend campaign events:

She also committed to holding at least three town hall-style meetings within the district if elected — gatherings open to the public where she would be present.


“At least,” she said. “That’s part of the role.”

One could view that as an indirect slight at many of Handel's would-be Georgia GOP colleagues. Democrats have criticized many members of the state's delegation for refusing to hold public, in-person town halls in the months since President Donald Trump was elected.


A tracker from the PAC America Rising, which conducts opposition research against Democrats, shot this footage of Atlanta Congressman John Lewis comparing 6th District candidate and former intern Jon Ossoff to the late John F. Kennedy:


Yeah, yeah, yeah. We were going for the "Ohio experience."

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.