Republicans face anger over Obamacare repeal during town halls – Politico
Two Republican lawmakers representing reliably conservative districts on opposite ends of the country on Saturday faced down heated questions from Obamacare supporters who flooded town hall events demanding that Congress not dismantle a health care law that has provided insurance for millions of people.
Fervent backers of the health care law shouted down Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), blasting his views on the Obamacare repeal and President Donald Trumpâs immigration ban. Hundreds of demonstrators showed up â some as early as 6:30 a.m. â to a theater in downtown Roseville, just northeast of Sacramento.
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After the meeting ended, McClintock was escorted by police as the crowd outside the theater shouted âResist!â and “Shame!”
The hostile crowd in Roseville was just the latest sign of trouble for congressional Republicans as they face voters outside of Washington. In Pinellas County, Fla., Gus Bilirakis, who represents a district Trump won, was on the defensive as voters packed a town hall on Obamacare. For more than two hours, Bilirakis listened to stories from his constituents â young, old, black and white â who implored him to not repeal the federal health care law without having a replacement ready.
âTo take away the Affordable Care Act is taking away my freedom and justice,â said Evan Thornton, a 21-year-old St. Petersburg College student who said he was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome at 16 and has stayed on his motherâs insurance because of Obamacare. âItâs taking away my life.â
Liberal-leaning groups are trying to foment a real movement against Trump â and in particular against repeal of Obamacare â sharing spreadsheets of town halls for Republicans across the country in hopes of sparking a grassroots movement similar to the tea party movement of 2009. Videos of screaming constituents were splashed across TV that summer as Congress drafted Obamacare, slowing the lawâs momentum and crushing any chance that Republicans would help pass it.
So far, protests against the repeal effort are not nearly as heated as those rage-filled 2009 town halls, some of which ended in fistfights, arrests and hospitalizations. But they show growing angst over the GOPâs uncertain plans to replace the health care law.
McClintock, whoâs voiced concerns about Obamacare enrollees losing coverage, was heard on leaked audio during last weekâs GOP retreat fretting about the lack of a replacement plan. On Saturday, McClintock recounted conversations he’s had with party leadership.
âI said, no, with all due respect, we have bills, we have proposals, but we donât really have a plan until we pass a plan out of the House,â he said.
McClintockâs district covers a large swath of mostly rural Northern California, covering some small mountainous counties as well as portions of the farm-rich Central Valley. In solidly blue California, it can be easy to forget that 25 of the stateâs 58 counties voted for Trump. Roseville is the largest city in Placer County, where Trump won 52 percent of the vote, compared to 41 percent for Hillary Clinton.
Amanda Barnes, a 28-year-old resident of Auburn, Calif., told McClintock she considered it an âact of Godâ that she was able to get on her motherâs health insurance five months before she was hit by a car, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. Barnes said at the time she was covered by the Obamacare provision allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance..
âIf I had not had my motherâs insurance to cover my health care costs, I would have been over half million in debt just in the first three days,” she said, asking how McClintock would protect her health.
Republican leaders say theyâre still trying to push through a repeal of Obamacare while approving major parts of a replacement plan by early March. But there are deep disagreements among GOP lawmakers about how much of Obamacare they should salvage, with Obamacareâs fiercest critics pushing to kill as much of the law as swiftly as possible through a fast-track budget process.
After the McClintock event, some attendees said they were frustrated his lack of detail about an Obamacare replacement plan. âHe just said, yes, we have something in place,â said Andrea Seminer, a lawyer from Roseville. âThey have nothing in place.â
Bilirakis was on the defensive at a Palm Harbor community center in northern Pinellas County, which was one of just four Florida counties that went for Trump after President Barack Obama won there twice.
Without providing details, Bilirakis said that he would work to ensure that the GOP replacement plan allows young adults to stay on their parents’ plans and includes protections for pre-existing conditions. Bilirakis told reporters after the meeting that he was resolved to repeal Obamacare.
âI think we need to repeal because we need to do it right and expand health care,â he said. âItâs too expensive. The premiums are too high, the deductibles are too high.â
McClintock told POLITICO he wanted to hold another listening session Saturday to accommodate the crowd outside the theater, but he said Roseville police advised him to leave when the town hall ended, because âapparently the situation outside was getting dangerous.â
âAs a diplomat would say, it was a frank exchange of views,â McClintock said after the event, adding that he will continue to meet with constituents. âItâs not their job to listen to me at the town hall; itâs my job to listen to them.â
Dennis Revell, chairman Placer County Republican Party, attributed the high turnout at the town hall to âan organized effort within the Democratic and progressive movement in this country to attempt to become the liberal equivalent of the Tea Party.â
âTheyâre entitled to do that,â he said. âThereâs a very good member of Congress standing here in the middle of Coliseum as the liberal gladiators attempted to attack him. He stood his ground and had a meaningful discussion.â
Nathan Williams, one of the main organizers of Town Hall Project 2018, a liberal volunteer group that circulated a nationwide list of lawmakersâ constituent events, said heâs trying to promote respectful dialogue.
âWeâre not encouraging people to be abusive or intimidating or peddle conspiracy theories,â he said this week. âWeâre empowering constituents; not trying to terrify members of Congress.â
Despite the show of support for Obamacare at the town hall, McClintock said he believes the majority of Americans want a better health care plan.
âIf people loved [Obamacare],” he said, “Nancy Pelosi would still be speaker and Hillary Clinton would be president.”
Christine Sexton contributed to this story.