Bruce Poliquin should have stayed in the restroom.

For those who haven’t already heard, the Republican congressman from Maine’s 2nd District fled toward a U.S. Capitol ladies’ room on Wednesday when a persistent reporter tried to ask for his position on repealing the Affordable Care Act.

A short time later, after correcting himself and scurrying into the men’s room, Poliquin hastily emerged wearing earbuds – his clumsy add-on to a pre-existing condition that has afflicted him since the day he first arrived in Washington, D.C.

The poor guy apparently can’t hear, let alone answer, tough questions.

On the same weekend that former President Obama rightfully receives the 2017 JFK Profile in Courage Award, Poliquin stands, now and forever, as Maine’s own profile in political cowardice.

Just as he spent most of last year dodging queries on whether he supported then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, Poliquin literally hid behind his silence for days rather than tip his hand on the euphemistically titled “American Health Care Act.” Or is it the “American Health Care Ax”?

Then, after the moment of truth finally arrived Thursday and Poliquin quietly fell in line to narrowly approve this legislative abomination, what did he do?

Did he fly home, book space at the Portland International Jetport and welcome in the media for a face-to-face briefing?

Nope.

Did he at least set aside enough time to tackle any and all inquiries about what he did and why he did it?

Wrong again.

He simply put out a statement that was as self-serving as it was misleading: Under this measure, “essential benefits” and “pre-existing conditions” would still be “fully covered,” he promised.

What he failed to acknowledge was that people who are old or sick (or both), should they experience a lapse in coverage, could easily be priced out of an insurance market that is now, by law, blind to those infirmities.

Then, rather than follow up with a full-fledged news conference, Poliquin opted for a phone call with the members of Maine’s media. Some only learned of it indirectly and at the last minute on Twitter.

For those who managed to patch into the call came this twist: Only selected TV reporters could ask questions. The rest were instructed beforehand to keep their traps shut.

Over and over, Poliquin insisted that the Republicans’ repeal-and-replace bill will only impact Mainers who “have Obamacare policies” – as if the health of those 80,000 or so of our neighbors somehow doesn’t count among what he called the “serious problems that are affecting Maine people.”

He’s wrong. In supporting this bill, Poliquin also voted for an estimated $800 billion in Medicaid cuts that would cost Maine’s neediest upward of $1 billion over the next 10 years.

He also said “yea” to scrapping the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that all insurers provide 10 essential health benefits, ranging from maternity care and emergency room visits to mental health treatment, prescription drugs and laboratory work.

Access to those services will now be left for the states, two-thirds of which are controlled by Republican governors and legislatures, to decide.

What else didn’t Poliquin talk about?

Well, he dodged the painful truth that he and his Republican colleagues rammed the bill through without at least waiting to hear from the Congressional Budget Office about how much it will cost and how many millions it will leave uninsured.

(Spoiler alert: The last CBO count, before the legislation lurched further to the right, was 24 million.)

Not a peep about how, under this plan, emergency rooms will once again fill up with sick people who waited too long for treatment and can’t possibly pay their bills.

Total silence on the fact that smaller hospitals in rural areas, which must provide that emergency treatment regardless of a patient’s ability to pay, will find themselves in critical financial condition – assuming the hospitals survive at all.

And, oh yes, we’ve yet to hear the congressman’s thoughts on the tax cut the bill awards to wealthy Americans – of which he is one – both on their income and their investments. (Perhaps he could donate his windfall to the National Association of the Deaf?)

Poliquin’s phone chat lasted all of 15 minutes. In keeping with his the-less-I-say-the-better approach to representing Maine’s oldest and poorest region, it was just enough to let him off the hook.

Contrast that with Rep. Chellie Pingree, the Democrat from Maine’s 1st District. After releasing her statement denouncing the Republicans’ “reckless” action, she invited a media throng to her Portland office Friday morning to talk for as long as they wanted about what all this means for a state with the highest median age in the nation.

She decried what she called “a gift to insurance companies” and “about a trillion dollars in tax cuts for the wealthiest people in our country.”

Pressed at one point to comment specifically on Poliquin’s vote, Pingree demurred. While she strongly disagrees with the Republican’s position in general, she said, “You can ask (Poliquin) for his thoughts” on why he voted the way he did.

Except we can’t. And even if we could, he’d bolt for the nearest bathroom.

Among the health advocates joining Pingree at the podium was Gordon Smith, executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association. He called the Republican bill “a huge step backwards” in making health care accessible and affordable to all Mainers.

“In this bill, the losers are the poor, those who are sick, those who are old, and women,” Smith said. “And in the state of Maine, we have a lot of all four.”

Noting that he’s spent considerable time recently in northern Maine, Smith said the aging communities in those areas “are not in good shape.” Nor, he noted, are the health care providers.

“I don’t know why Congressman Poliquin and I see it so differently,” Smith mused.

No one does. All we can hear is the sound of toilets flushing.

It’s worth noting that next year around this time, Poliquin will be hard at work trying to get himself re-elected – or, if some rumors pan out, attempting once again to weasel his way into the Blaine House.

Either way, here’s hoping that the majority of people he represents, like the rest of the country, will by then have pushed the political pendulum away from blind ideology and toward their own self-interest. That they will at least have started to feel the real pain embedded in whatever emerges from this travesty still in the making.

Put more simply, Bruce Poliquin can and will run.

But unlike his trip to the biffy last week, he’ll have no place left to hide.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]