MARTINSBURG, W. Va. — There might be a few more West Virginians clogging up the White House phone lines, courtesy of their home-state senator.
Sen. Joe Manchin III encouraged his constituents gathered at a town hall meeting here Thursday to phone the White House and implore President Donald Trump to slow down the effort to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law.
“I would bombard the White House,” the West Virginia Democrat said. “I really think that President Trump is the only one that can stop this going on right now.”
The Republican plan to partially repeal and replace the health care law is facing an uncertain future in Congress, given opposition from conservative and moderate GOP lawmakers. But if Republicans somehow corral their party and the plan moves forward, Democrats alone cannot stop it. That’s because Republicans, who have majorities in both chambers, are working under a budget process that only requires a simple majority to pass in the Senate.
“202-456-1414,” Manchin told the roughly 200 people packed in the auditorium of the Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center. “That’s the White House switchboard.”
Manchin said he believed Trump may be willing to listen to people who raise concerns about hastily moving forward with this plan.
“[Trump] can say, ‘Wait a minute, this is too convoluted. There’s too many people at risk,’” Manchin explained. “Because he made statements, ‘I want people to have health care. I don’t want anybody thrown off.’ What we know now, the [Congressional Budget Office] scored it, you’re going to be thrown off if you’re in certain categories.”
A man in the back of the auditorium shouted a question about Trump, “You really believe he can be trusted?”
Manchin didn’t acknowledge the question, and the man was quieted by Dr. Catherine Ferga, who works at a medical center in Harpers Ferry and had asked Manchin how citizens can stop the repeal effort.
“Giving the White House phone number, I think was a very good idea,” said Grant Prillaman, 65, of Shepherdstown.
“People in this area, I know a lot of folks who are increasingly, and often newly, sort of radicalized and interested in the political process, and that’s an important piece of it: Contact the people you want to inform of your opinions,” said Prillaman, a high school Spanish teacher.
“I almost dialed it right then,” said Angela Petry, a 47 -year-old performance artist from Berkeley Springs.
The quick pace of the GOP health care plan was why Manchin decided to hold a handful of town halls during the brief Senate recess this week, the senator told reporters after the meeting. He was originally supposed to go overseas with the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The meeting kicked off with a 10-minute PowerPoint presentation on how the GOP plan, known as the American Health Care Act, would affect the Mountain State.
Roughly 210,000 West Virginians are at risk of losing their health care under the GOP plan, according to figures provided by advocacy group West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, which were drawn from data from the state’s Department of Health and Human Resources. That includes the 175,000 people enrolled through the state’s Medicaid expansion, and the 35,000 covered in marketplaces created by the law.
Manchin said he would do all he could to stop the plan from moving forward, but citizens needed to make their voices heard.
“If you’re ever going to speak out, speak out now because we’ve got to slow them up,” he said.
Manchin told the attendees that he personally told Trump a month ago that lawmakers should work together to repair the current law first, rather than repealing it.
The state’s senior senator has worked to foster a relationship with Trump, who won the state by more than 40 points in November. Manchin is also up for re-election in 2018, and will need the support of Trump voters to keep his seat.
Manchin said he also reminded Trump to think of the people who voted for him, many of whom can now afford health care under the 2010 law.
“They don’t know how they got it. They don’t know if it was a Democratic initiative, they don’t know whether it was President [Barack] Obama’s initiative,” Manchin said he told Trump. “But they’ll know one thing. They’ll know who will take it away.”