Senate Republicans face protests and sit-ins at home over health care bill

Yahoo News photo illustration; photos: AP, Getty Images

Yahoo News continuing coverage of the Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare comes in the latest Health Care Declassified. We’ll combine our own reporting with the best insights from around the Internet to give you the latest on the future of health care in America.

~

Although Senate Republicans have yet to resume work on their health care legislation, activists nationwide stormed their local district offices on Thursday, demanding to speak to senators about the controversial health care bill backed by the Senate GOP leadership.

Hundreds of activists called on GOP senators to oppose the measure, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act, in a series of sit-ins at lawmakers’ offices in about 25 states. At least 43 people were arrested, according to an activist tally cited by the Daily Beast. The protests, tracked on social media with the hashtag #SitInSaveLives, were organized by a coalition of national and local groups, including the Working Families Party, Our Revolution, Democracy Spring and Ultraviolet Action.

“The idea today was really to force senators to grapple with their conscience on it, to grapple with who they really represent, whether their constituents have the health care they need or if a handful of super-rich people do,” Working Families Party spokesman Joe Dinkin told Yahoo News. Some groups of protesters stayed in their senators’ offices overnight, Dinkin said, including the Cincinnati and Columbus offices of Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

The Democratic Socialists of America organized a protest outside the Manhattan Republican headquarters on July 5. (Photo: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The GOP plan would dismantle much of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Notably, it would restructure the distribution of federal Medicaid funding, cutting the program by $772 billion through 2026. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had promised the bill’s passage before the July 4 congressional recess but abruptly delayed the vote just days before the break. Politico reported that Senate Republicans tentatively expect a vote in two weeks.

Although the Senate Republican leadership believed they could pass the bill before the recess, some GOP senators have begun expressing doubts about whether it will pass at all.

So far, 10 have announced their opposition — for various reasons, from both the left and the right — to the current version of the Senate legislation. Those lawmakers are Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine; Dean Heller, R-Nev.; John Hoeven, R-N.D.; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Mike Lee, R-Utah; Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.; Jerry Moran, R-Kan.; Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; and Portman.

Related slideshow: Protesters across the country oppose GOP’s health care plan >>>

Even senators who support the bill have begun to address the possibility that it will fail. McConnell himself warned Thursday that if the GOP Obamacare repeal bill is not passed, Congress would need to stabilize the health care insurance market.

“If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to private health insurance markets must occur,” the Republican leader said at a Rotary Club meeting in his home state.

Additionally, Cruz aligned himself with President Trump’s call for a “clean repeal” of Obamacare if the BCRA fails, joining Sens. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., and Paul.

But McConnell’s backup plan envisions working jointly with Democrats to amend Obamacare.

Sen. Ted Cruz talks about health care during a town hall meeting, Thursday, July 6, 2017, in Austin, Texas. (Photo: Eric Gay/AP)

Throughout the day Thursday, small groups of protesters spoke with congressional staffers, asking for sit-down meetings with their senator or public town halls on the issue.

Dinkin said he believes that none of the protests succeeded in winning meetings with elected officials. Republican lawmakers held or scheduled seven town hall meetings during the congressional break, while Democrats held or scheduled 30, according to townhallproject.com.

Protesters also claimed they had not been allowed inside the offices of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in Tallahassee; Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., in Raleigh; and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., in Kansas City. Olivia Perez-Cubas, a Rubio spokeswoman, said in a statement: “We respect these activists’ right to protest; however, it should not interfere with the ability of Senator Rubio and his state to serve the people of Florida, nor should it disrupt the private businesses located near our offices.”

Rubio also tweeted Thursday, “media should ask protestors across U.S. 2day why they support a system that leads to outcomes like this,” pointing to a story about 11-month-old Charlie Gard, who is the subject of a dispute between Britain’s state-run health care system and his parents about whether to keep him alive despite a terminal illness.


Katie Boyd, a Blunt spokeswoman, wrote in an email to Yahoo News that Blunt “always welcomes constituents or a representative for a large group to speak with him or his staff and drop off any information.” Boyd noted that the building is privately owned, and that Blunt’s staff met with protesters outside to “minimize disruption to our neighbors.”

“We have been attempting to meet with our Senator since the president’s inauguration, and today was no different,” Meg Pickett, a Lawrence University professor who spent the morning protesting in the office of Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., wrote in an email to Yahoo News. “Despite the recess, despite the claim that it was important to go home to listen to constituents, Senator Johnson was unwilling or unable to meet with us.”

Johnson and the other senators did not immediately respond to Yahoo News’ request for comment.

A Congressional Budget Office analysis shows that the Senate’s version of the bill would result in 22 million fewer people insured by 2026. Republicans, who hold a 52-48 Senate majority, must secure at least 50 votes in favor of the bill for it to pass.

_____

Democratic congressional candidate arrested in Texas during protest

Democrat Derrick Crowe, who intends to challenge GOP incumbent Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas in 2018, was arrested during one of several protests nationwide against the Republican health care plan Thursday, according to a Daily Kos column written by Crowe.

Crowe, who was apprehended for blocking pedestrian traffic, had been protesting in front of the Austin office of Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex. Cornyn had served on the 13-member working group tasked with drafting the Senate health care bill.


“The Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA, the Senate version of the GOP’s Affordable Care Act repeal) isn’t a health care bill,” Crowe wrote in the column. “It’s a tax cut for very rich people, financed by letting tens of thousands of people in my congressional district get sick, go bankrupt, and die.”

Several other protesters were also arrested for obstructing traffic, according to KVUE News.

Crowe announced his candidacy for Texas’ 21st Congressional District in April. The former congressional staffer has billed himself as a progressive on the opposite side of the political spectrum from Smith, a conservative Republican and Trump supporter. — Julia Munslow

_____

GOP senator challenged by his children’s doctor on health care

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., speaks to reporters following a town hall meeting, July 6, 2017, in the tiny town of Palco, Kan. Moran is facing tough questions about GOP efforts to overhaul health care. (John Hanna/AP)

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., faced off with his children’s pediatrician at a town hall Thursday on the GOP health care bill.

Dr. Bob Cox, Moran’s constituent and his daughters’ physician, asked the senator to explain why the U.S. government will fund the military to protect its citizens from external threats, but not the health care system to fight off internal threats of disease, according to a Kansas City Star report.

Moran, who criticized the Senate’s bill last week, said he would consider voting in favor of an Obamacare replacement even without public hearings. But he said he’s waiting to see future drafts of the legislation before deciding.

“The Senate healthcare bill missed the mark for Kansans and therefore did not have my support,” Moran wrote in a statement. “I am pleased with the decision to delay the vote — now is the time to take a step back and put the full legislative process to work.”

Moran said one of his main concerns with Obamacare was rising medical costs. The senator said he would support a bill to replace the ACA with a plan that is affordable, protects individuals with preexisting conditions, provides for rural health care, does not hinder job creation and doesn’t disadvantage Kansas as a state that did not opt to expand Medicaid.

Many constituents at the town hall urged Moran to continue to fight the Senate bill, and some also said they hoped to see a repeal of Obamacare eventually. — Julia Munslow

_____

GOP lawmaker explains health care holdup: We ‘didn’t expect Donald Trump to win’

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., speaks to the Conservative Political Action Conference meeting in 2011. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said Wednesday in a televised meeting with constituents that most Republican lawmakers didn’t expect President Trump to win the election, and therefore were unprepared to replace Obamacare.

“Look, I didn’t expect Donald Trump to win. I think most of my colleagues didn’t, so we didn’t expect to be in this situation,” Toomey said in response to a question about why the long-promised GOP health care bill has not been passed.

Toomey, who served on the 13-member working group tasked with drafting the Senate health care legislation, said June 27 that the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act “is not perfect, but it is a positive step toward repairing the damages caused by Obamacare and putting Medicaid on a sustainable fiscal path.”

The second-term senator has faced criticism from his constituents for his support of the health care bill.

“Given how difficult it is to get to a consensus, it was hard to force that until there was a need to,” said Toomey, who admitted that a health care bill is still several weeks away. — Julia Munslow

Read more from Yahoo News:

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes