After failing to get their Obamacare replacement bill to a vote this week, Senate Republicans are now taking their work home with them as they return to their state offices over the week-long July Fourth recess. With very few "town hall"-style meetings with voters scheduled, Democratic activist groups are employing a new technique to get their voices heard: Turn every Senator sighting into an impromptu town hall.
"We want people, when they see a senator, to tweet it out and let us know where they are so people can go and hold that senator accountable," Bruce Darling of the Center for Disability Rights says. "Confront them and make sure they look disabled people in the eye and let them know why their deaths should pay for a tax cut." The Senate bill proposes reducing Medicaid spending by $800 billion dollars over a decade while reducing taxes on the most affluent Americans. While the federal entitlement program is commonly known to provide health care to the nation's poorest residents, nearly a third of adults with disabilities receive care through Medicaid, as do 60 percent of children with disabilities.
Trumpcare is the worst bill for women's health in a generation. This vote delay shows that protests are working, but this fight is far from over.
Angry town hall meetings were all the rage back in February when House Republicans were debating their bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But now, few opportunities exist for voters to vent their frustrations with the Senate alternative, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Thirty-four of the 52 Senate Republicans have not held a town hall at all this year, according to Vox. "We saw after the House vote how House Republicans knew their votes were so indefensible that they were hiding from their constituents," says Kaitlin Sweeney, press secretary for the the PCCC.
While Republicans in the House and Senate held 31 town halls in February and more than twice as many in April, that number dwindled to 13 town halls in June, according to Vox, and only two Republican Senators plan to hold town hall meetings over the weeklong July 4 recess, according to The Town Hall Project, which logs every district- and state-wide public event featuring a member of Congress. "If these senators aren’t willing to hold public events where folks can make their voices heard, they’re going to have to assume every time they come out in public is going to be an opportunity for folks to make their voices heard," says Isaac Bloom, the organizing director of Indivisible.
Along with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and other activist groups, Indivisible launched an "adopt-a-district" initiative to schedule town halls in Republican districts and then invite the elected official in charge of the district to join. "If they wouldn’t attend, we would invite Democratic lawmakers to come in and speak to constituents," Sweeney says. The activist groups are ready to launch some fireworks ahead of July Fourth, as Democratic Congressman from Colorado Jared Polis is set to invade his Republican colleague's congressional district this Saturday.
"Senate Republicans are not holding town halls for the same reason they are struggling to pass the bill," says Erica Sackin, Political Communications Director of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. "Trumpcare is the worst bill for women's health in a generation. This vote delay shows that protests are working, but this fight is far from over." Planned Parenthood is encouraging people to call their representatives, deliver petitions, go door-to-door to talk to their neighbors about the health bill, and take part in "patient speak-outs." A Wednesday rally in D.C. drew 1,500 people to the Capitol, according to a Planned Parenthood spokesperson.
Folks are going out to their Fourth of July parades bringing homemade signs that say 'Don’t take away my health care.'
When protesters with disabilities staged a headline-grabbing "die-in" at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's Capitol Hill office last week, 43 people were forcibly removed by Capitol Police and arrested. "It was clear McConnell’s office wasn’t willing to engage with us," Darling says. He helped wheelchair-bound activists out of their chairs and to McConnell's office floor and was arrested.
"Do you want me to take my breathing machine off?" Darling remembers one of the activists asking. "We decided, no, that's probably not necessary." Disability rights activists staged a similar protest for more than 48 hours at Republican Senator Cory Gardner's office in Colorado. Darling says the group is galvanizing action across the country using the hashtag #ADAPTandRESIST.
For many members of Congress, Independence Day parades are a summer mainstay. Victoria Kaplan, Organizing Director for MoveOn.org, says her group will be holding more than 250 community cookouts and picnics in all 50 states over the holiday weekend in an attempt to network with like-minded activists and put pressure on elected officials. "Folks are going out to their Fourth of July parades bringing homemade signs that say 'Don’t take away my health care,' banners that say 'Don’t take away our health care,' to events that the whole community turn out for, that menders of Congress will go to, so it’s a prime opportunity," Kaplan says.
The organization behind January's Women's March on Washington is galvanizing its followers to tweet their stories using the hashtag #HowTheACASavedMyLife. In two days, the Twitter campaign garnered more than 100 million impressions.
"Women were coming out all over the country to tell the story of how the ACA affected them and their family," says Bob Bland, national co-president of the Women's March. "As we shared their stories, we saw more and more senators started to think twice about what they were doing." Bland credited the Women's March and other "resistance" groups with peeling Republican support away from the bill and causing the vote to be delayed until after recess.
"Whether it’s protests or phone calls or social media or TV ads, we have [to] make sure that Republican Senators see the pain and the worry that their constituents have over this bill," Sweeney says.
But organizers cautioned, just because the bill is delayed doesn't mean it's dead. "I haven’t seen anybody take their foot off the gas here," Kaplan said.