East, West, North & South– Something’s Happening Here (& There . . .)
[On February 4] Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), one of the relatively few members of Congress who has held public town hall meetings in 2017, was beset by protesters in the city of Roseville, Calif. More than 1,000 people gathered in front of a venue that could seat 200, and many of those who got inside protested McClintock, a conservative who represents one of the state’s few safe Republican seats, for favoring the president’s executive orders on refugees and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Amanda Barnes, a 28-year-old resident of Auburn, Calif., told McClintock she considered it an “act of God” that she was able to get on her mother’s 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..
“If I had not had my mother’s 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.
According to social media reports from attendees, the event was raucous; according to video clips taken in its aftermath, McClintock left under police protection as critics, many organized by the local branch of the Indivisible activist organization, followed closely. . . .
“As a diplomat would say, it was a frank exchange of views,” McClintock said after the event, adding that he will continue to meet with constituents. “It’s not their job to listen to me at the town hall; it’s my job to listen to them.”
Comment: He got that right.
Eastward in “Zion,” as many Mormons call Utah and Salt Lake City, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a loyal White House protector, got a loud, seething reception from another overflowing town hall crowd.
From Slate, February 9: The crowd well exceeded the auditorium’s 1,000-person capacity and the event kicked off to chants of “kick him out!” (re: Chaffetz) mixed with “let them in!” (re: the some 1,000 person overflow crowd locked out of the event).
The crowd that did make it inside roiled with anger, asking pointed questions on the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act, violence against women, Chaffetz’s refusal, as the GOP chairman of the House oversight committee, to investigate President Trump’s apparent conflicts of interest and Russian election meddling, as well as his stated desire to sell off local public lands.”
[Meanwhile, In] Murfreesboro, Tennessee, [GOP Rep. Diane] Black was met with roughly 100 protesters at a “Ask Your Reps” event hosted by the Middle Tennessee State University’s College Republicans.
CNN reported that Mike Carlson, a 32-year-old student from Antioch, Tennessee, said that as an overweight man, he depended on Obamacare to stay alive.
“I have to have coverage to make sure I don’t die. There are people now who have cancer that have that coverage, that have to have that coverage to make sure they don’t die,” Carlson said. “And you want to take away this coverage — and have nothing to replace it with! How can I trust you to do anything that’s in our interest at all?”
Jessi Bohon, a 35-year-old high school teacher who lives in Cookeville, Tennessee, was visibly emotional as she stood up and posed her question.
“As a Christian, my whole philosophy in life is pull up the unfortunate,” Bohon said, a comment that drew verbal affirmation from others in the room. “The individual mandate: that’s what it does. The healthy people pull up the sick.”
Bohon went on to ask how Congress could be OK with “punishing our sickest people” rather than trying to “fix what’s wrong with Obamacare,” the sweeping healthcare law that covers 20 million Americans.
Up north, on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, next up was GOP Rep. Justin Amash, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, who found himself in hot swirling water. Said the Detroit Free Press:
“Perhaps the most contentions moments at the town hall were created by questions about the future of the Affordable Care Act.
Paul Bonis stood from his first-row seat and gave an impassioned endorsement of the federal health law, before telling Amash: “I am also a cancer survivor. I am scared to death that I will not have health insurance in the future.”
The comments earned the 61-year-old retiree from Ada, Mich., a standing ovation from many in the crowd. But Amash’s response, saying the ACA has “hurt a lot of people” and declaring his support for repealing the law and replacing it, drew a chorus of boos.
Afterward, Bonis said he appreciated the congressman’s willingness to meet with his constituents, but that the atmosphere was troubling.
“I have never seen our country more divided. Everybody’s in their own corner, and they’re kind of yelling at each other across the room. Nothing is ever going to get done that way,” Bonis said.
[In Florida, Republican] Rep. Gus Bilirakis issued the call to residents of his conservative district on Facebook: “Come share your thoughts on the future of health care.”
More than 200 people took the Republican congressman up on it, packing a Palm Harbor community center on Saturday morning so tightly that late-comers had to park down the street.
The twist: Despite the demographics of the district, which includes all of Pasco and parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, nearly all the guests came to support for the Affordable Care Act, the Obama-era health law now on the chopping block.
There was John Ford, 66, who was once denied coverage for his hip because he had previously had the joint replaced. And Christine Mendonca, 34, who worried that without Obamacare, she could no longer afford to get pregnant.
Evan Thornton, 21, fought back tears describing the congenital heart condition that could cut his life short. The Affordable Care Act had allowed him to have coverage under his parents’ plan into his 20s, he said.
“I’m an independent who voted for you,” he told Bilirakis. “Please don’t take my life away. Please don’t let me die.”
Only a handful supported efforts by Congressional Republicans to repeal and replace the health law — and one was a Bilirakis employee, case work director Kristen Sellas.
Out in the Midwest, an Illinois Republican took more aggressive defensive measures:
“Constituents of Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) have been trying to share their concerns regarding the Republican-led effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. A meeting with 16 constituents was abruptly canceled by Roskam’s staff this week when they learned a member of the press was present, and Roskam’s appearance at the Palatine Township Republican Organization on Saturday was changed from being open to the public to a members only event, according to the Chicago Tribune.”
More than 300 people showed up to protest outside the closed door meeting, expressing concerns ranging from the Obamacare repeal to President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban.
“We can no longer accept that he refuses to hold town hall meetings or meet with constituents who may disagree with his voting record,” Carolynne Funk told the Tribune. “The stakes are now too high to tolerate being shut out of the democratic process any longer.”
Video posted by Citizen Action Illinois from the protest reportedly shows Roskam leaving out of the back door while the crowd can be heard chanting “shame on you!”
Meanwhile, from a secure location inside the Beltway, the Wall Street Journal collected condescending pooh-poohs from a heavy on the Hill:
“They’re people who are upset with the outcome of the presidential election and are going to express their unhappiness in this fashion,” Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said of the protesters. “And that’s their right.”
But Sen. Thune, No. 3 in the Senate Republican leadership, added, “I don’t think that in any way ought to influence our members. There’s a center-right coalition of people out there who want to see us get results for the American people.”
Comment: not “in any way,” huh? Well, that will calm folks down. For sure.
Much of the organizing of these vigorous crowds has been done with resources from a group called Indivisible, which published a detailed online guide to how resisters can adapt Tea Party tactics to shake up & wake up recalcitrant members of Congress; the free guide is here:
Another online group, the Town Hall Project 2018 is compiling & updating a spreadsheet list of upcoming town hall & other public meetings scheduled by Members of Congress of both parties. The spreadsheet, organized by state, is here.
There are several weeks ahead of what in Hillspeak are called “District Work Periods,” when Congress is recessed, and Members are often at home, with time for town halls and other opportunities for public input.
During these and future visits, Members would be well-advised to heed Tom McClintock’s counsel: “It’s not [the citizens’] job to listen to me at the town hall; it’s my job to listen to them.”
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