Leading up to a historic health care system overhaul vote that ultimately was canceled Friday, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, wouldn’t take a formal stance on the legislation.

Poliquin spokesman Brendan Conley declined Thursday to say if the Republican congressman had a public stance on the bill, instead saying Poliquin “is continuing to carefully study and push for changes in this health care relief proposal.” While Poliquin vocally supported repeal of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, he hadn’t said whether he fully supported the measure being pushed by both President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan.

A vote had been scheduled for Thursday, but House leaders postponed it until Friday following reports that not enough Republicans supported the measure. On Friday, they canceled the vote and withdrew the bill.

Poliquin released a statement Friday evening in which he continued not to take a stance and instead took aim at Obamacare, saying the law “is failing, and it’s critical that Congress works to fix it to rescue the Maine families it’s impacting. But let’s do this right.”

“I agree that all legislation, especially a proposal for such an important policy change, must have enough time to be thoroughly reviewed by the American people and all lawmakers of all political parties,” Poliquin said in the Friday statement. “As I said, I have pushed to ensure those nearing retirement and in rural areas receive support in any proposed legislation.”

In a statement earlier this week, Poliquin said he had met with Trump and urged him and House leadership to push for increased benefits for those nearing retirement and families living in rural areas.

Conley didn’t respond immediately to request for comment Friday on whether Poliquin had an official stance on the GOP bill. Multiple calls Friday afternoon to Poliquin’s office in Washington received automated replies saying the voicemail was full.

Poliquin’s refusal to take a public stance on the controversial proposed legislation is not unusual, said Jim Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington.

“He’s often been a difficult vote to guess before contentious votes,” Melcher said. “I think he is sympathetic to the Republican arguments for changing the ACA but is concerned the current proposal would harm rural areas and seniors. On issues where he thinks the (Republican) position is bad for his district, he’s often resisted, but is capable of shifting depending on what is offered.”

The rest of Maine’s congressional delegation — U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, as well as U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, and U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent — have said they oppose the proposed GOP bill.

Melcher said it’s possible Collins’ position might have some influence on Poliquin, “but he’s been more conservative than her before.”

“If he gets what he wants in changes to the bill, Collins potentially being on the other side would probably not dissuade him,” Melcher said.

But in some ways, Poliquin also has boxed himself into a corner and been “has been conspicuously absent from this debate,” said Sandy Maisel, Goldfarb professor of American government at Colby College in Waterville.

“The Republican alternative to the Affordable Care Act obviously hurts people like the elderly in rural Maine. Senator Collins could always say that, and she has been outspoken on the issue,” Maisel said. “But congressman Poliquin is trying to be loyal to the Republican Party. I think his greatest hope was that it would never come to a vote.”

The Congressional Budget Office recently released a report saying 24 million fewer people would be insured over the next decade under the House GOP bill, compared to the Affordable Care Act. The ACA has reduced the rates of the uninsured since it became law in 2010, and 20 million people nationwide now have ACA insurance, either through the marketplace or Medicaid expansion.

About 80,000 Mainers have ACA insurance, although Maine is one of 19 states that has not expanded Medicaid, which is a key aspect of the ACA in extending health insurance.

More than 25,000 older Mainers who have Affordable Care Act insurance could pay up to seven times as much for health insurance under the proposed Republican health care bill, the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram reported. Mainers in their 50s and early 60s living in the state’s poorest, most rural counties would be hit hardest by the GOP bill, according to the Telegram analysis of data from the Congressional Budget Office and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In Conley’s Thursday statement, he said Poliquin “is concerned about any potential impact on those nearing retirement who are not yet on Medicare” and pointed to his White House meeting with Trump, when he asked leaders “to improve provisions of the bill for those near retirement as it relates to health care costs.”

“He was encouraged with two specific provisions in the original bill that retain coverage for those with pre-existing health conditions and give the option for young adults to stay on their parents’ policies so they can become established in the workforce,” Conley said in the statement.

Poliquin’s predicament — if the House GOP bill eventually had come to a vote — was that either decision could have hurt him politically, Maisel said.

“If he votes to repeal the ACA and for the Republican alternative, he will be voting against his constituents — and this has been widely discussed,” Maisel said, adding that if Poliquin had voted against repealing the law and against the Republican alternative, he would have “put himself in a precarious position in his own caucus, potentially even with extreme conservative Republicans here in Maine.

“The congressman has never been one to put his views out as a matter of principle; instead, he seems to vote pragmatically.”

Staff writer Colin Ellis contributed reporting.

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