Protesters avid; GOP on break wary
EASTPORT, Maine — Republicans during Congress’ Fourth of July recess have carefully managed their public appearances as protesters have made direct confrontations with elected officials a central part of their opposition to the party’s health care proposals.
When Congress broke for the long holiday, just four of the Senate’s 52 Republicans — Susan Collins of Maine, Ted Cruz of Texas, Dean Heller of Nevada and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — announced appearances at Fourth of July parades. Only three GOP senators — Cruz, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana — said they would hold public meetings. All have criticized the Senate’s health care bill.
Activists opposing the bill are seeking to copy what worked for tea party activists who packed Democratic lawmakers’ events in 2009-10 during the debate over what would become the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Before Congress broke for recess, activists shared details on websites of any Republican appearances. Democratic senators who spoke at a June 28 rally outside the Capitol repeatedly urged activists to make noise wherever they saw Republicans. It was the protesters, they said, who had repeatedly spoiled Republicans’ plans to pass a bill and move on to tax restructuring.
Collins spent the Fourth of July in Eastport, Maine, marching in the town’s parade.
“I heard, over and over again, encouragement for my stand against the current version of the Senate and House health care bills,” Collins said after the parade. “People were thanking me, over and over again.”
In Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., navigated around an estimated 85 protesters — many organized by Planned Parenthood — to tell Hardin County Republicans that he was still trying to solve the “Rubik’s Cube” called the Better Care Reconciliation Act.
“Obamacare is a disaster,” McConnell said, referring to the health law passed under former President Barack Obama. “No action is not an option. But what to replace it with is very challenging.”
McConnell did not explain how the Better Care Reconciliation Act might change, and some of the ideas floated to win votes have fallen flat with skeptical lawmakers.
Yet with protesters kept outside, McConnell faced no interruptions or skeptical questions. Cruz faced something else in McAllen, Texas, a city on the Mexican border that voted heavily for Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential election. Early Tuesday morning, as Cruz grabbed a microphone, protesters behind a fence waved signs reading “No Transfer of Wealth 4 Our Health” and “No Repeal, No Medicaid Cuts.” Cruz supporters tried in vain to drown them out.
“Isn’t freedom wonderful?” Cruz asked. “In much of the world, if protesters showed up, they would face violent government oppression. In America, we’ve got something different.”
In a follow-up interview with the Texas Tribune, Cruz characterized the protesters as members of “a small group of people on the left who right now are very angry.” Other Republicans used similar language to explain why cutting back on open forums made sense. Some have pivoted to call-in events, where there’s no threat of moments caught on video going viral. Some have cited the shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., to argue that public forums would expose them and police to unnecessary risks.
“The last thing we’re going to do is give in to a lot of leftwing activists and media,” Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., told a radio interviewer last month. “With these security situations, I don’t know how any member of Congress can do a town hall.”