Pro­test­ers avid; GOP on break wary

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - DAVID WEIGEL, MUR­RAY CAR­PEN­TER AND JU­LIA O’MAL­LEY

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.”

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