Politics

Republicans Face Wrath Over Health Care Vote

Though many skipped town hall meetings, they couldn’t escape the fury

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., talks with constituents during a "Coffee and Conversation" at the Riverbank Teen Center on Tuesday. Dozen of constituents attended the meeting to voice concerns over his vote on the Republican health care bill in the House last week. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Republican lawmakers across the country have faced crowds of angry constituents after they returned home to try to justify their votes on the Republican health care bill last week. 

Democrat-aligned groups have promised to to try to make House members who voted for the Republican health care bill, called the American Health Care Act, regret their vote. And opponents of the bill are attempting to show their ire over provisions they say will cut coverage, especially for those with pre-existing conditions.

Many Republicans, having seen rowdy crowds at earlier town halls this year, opted not to attend or hold meetings open to the public during the recess.

Walkout: Iowa Rep. Rod Blum was one of few Republicans to publicly defend his vote for Trump's health plan, which he did at a contentious town hall in Dubuque, Iowa. One constituent complained that the House rushed the vote for Trump’s health care bill, saying “This is not how democracy works. And you know that.” Blum agreed. “I have always said the process was bad, that it was rushed, it was rushed and there should’ve been hearings,” he told the crowd.

Blum walked into the event immediately after abruptly ending an interview when asked why the town hall would be strictly limited to district residents.

For shame: New York Rep. Elise Stefanik was greeted by protesters chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!” at her Plattsburgh town hall at a public television station. The 100 people chosen by lottery to be allowed entrance were joined by about 250 protesters.

Inside, Stefanik faced questions about “the rich getting tax breaks” in the health care bill, and was heckled when the audience felt she dodged the question. Stefanik was the only person in attendance to defend the bill.

Bipartisan?: GOP Rep. Jeff Denham faced his voters at a “coffee with constituents” event in Riverbank, California on Tuesday morning, where health care dominated the conversation. Voters in his district supported Hillary Clinton by three points. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates his race Leans Republican. 

At one point he the Republican health bill as, "bipartisan, both parties working together," prompting one woman to respond that there was "not one Democrat that voted for it," as the crowd jeered. 

One constituent said he called Denham’s office less than 24 hours before last week’s vote, and was told Denham would be voting against the bill, though Denham ultimately supported it. When the man called back to protest, Denham’s staffer tried to debate him about the merits of the bill.

“The whole experience made me feel about 'this big,’” the young man said, pinching two of his thumb and pointer finger together until they were barely touching. "I felt like that is a dishonest thing.”

Denham apologized for the experience, and said a final amendment adding funds to curb costs for people with pre-existing conditions helped garner his support.

“Adding $8 billion to the bill was something that I was very very focused on,” Denham said.

Safer option: New York Rep. John Fasoattempted to avoid the worst of it by having an event with seniors in Kingston on Monday, capped at 100 attendees who had to sign up and submit questions ahead of time. But he was still beset by jeers, applause for critical questions, and a call from the audience for everyone with a pre-existing condition to stand up.

Unsolicited stand-in: Faso declined to attend an open town hall later the same day in his district, and, in fact, has not attended any open town hall meetings in his district, which he described as “shouting-and-screaming sessions.” In his place, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat who represents a neighboring district, attended the town hall to hear Faso’s constituents out.

Maloney said he had received calls from people in Faso's district unable to get through to voice their complaints about the Republican health care bill, and recommended other Democrats “adopt” districts whose Republican representatives refuse to hold town halls.

Faso's spokeswoman Courtney Weaver called the meeting a “purely partisan political rally,” and said Maloney “reverted to form as a hyper-partisan seeking to advance himself in the eyes of his patrons in Albany and Washington.”

Not waiting for a meeting: Michigan Rep. Tim Walberg, who voted for the Republican health care bill, will attend a town hall meeting in his district on Thursday. But protesters showed up at his Jackson office Monday evening.

They wielded signs shaped like tombstones with the names of health conditions like dementia and Parkinson’s written on them, and called Walberg “last term Tim.” An organizer said they were protesting because the Thursday town hall wouldn’t be truly open: “They’re always real small venues with pre-screened questions and nobody’s allowed to talk.”

Making their own event: A protest in Reno against Nevada Rep. Mark Amodei and his vote for the health care bill also featured tombstones, which protesters raised above their heads as they laid down in a public park for a die-in.

Another die-in outside Rep. Neil Dunn's office in Tallahassee also protested his health care vote

Conway draws a crowd: Rep. Marsha Blackburn faced protests at a fundraising event in downtown Nashville with Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway. There the march used Conway's presence to focus on multiple issues related to the Trump administration in addition to Blackburn's vote for Trump's health plan.

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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