The Grass Roots Mobilizes to Save Obamacare

At hundreds of town halls around the country local citizens have criticized Republican lawmakers for supporting the ACA repeal. Now activist groups are asking them to do more.

The Grass Roots Mobilizes to Save Obamacare

Citizens packed in at the town hall meeting of Sen Tom Cotton (R-AR) on Feb. 22. (Photo shared by Greg Leding, a Democratic member of the Arkansas House of Representatives)

On Monday, Republicans revealed their long-awaited plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, leading some pro-Obamacare activist groups to step up their mobilization efforts.

The GOP’s new plan would reduce the government’s role in helping people afford health insurance and would likely leave millions of people without it. Between 6 million and 10 million people would lose coverage, according to initial estimates by Standard & Poor’s.

The plan removes the mandate that most Americans have health insurance, a cornerstone of the ACA, also known as Obamacare. It would eliminate subsidies to help poorer Americans with costs, and would roll back the expansion of Medicaid. (The New York Times has an overview of the details.)

A day after Republicans introduced the plan, Indivisible, along with the Center on Budget Priorities, Planned Parenthood and Families USA, held a joint call urging citizens to step up the fight against the new GOP health care legislation.

“We saw an incredible display of grass-roots activism just a week and a half ago,” said Angel Padilla, an Indivisible board member and co-author of its guide. “We believe that constituents have power. We’ve seen it in town halls… in every corner of the country, how constituents can get together and really pressure their member of Congress.”

Indivisible counted close to 300 town hall and other events, such as group visits to around the country during the February congressional recess held by Indivisible chapters, with more than 100,000 estimated participants.

Padilla said at the town halls, “the No. 1 thing [citizens] wanted to talk about is that they didn’t want to lose health care.” Other activist groups, such as Our Revolution, which is associated with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), said 30,000 pro-ACA protesters attended over 100 rallies on the last Saturday in February.

Jamming it through

On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee began marking up the legislation to repeal and replace the ACA. “If all goes according to plan, the House will vote within a few weeks, and the Senate will take up the legislation before its spring recess begins on April 7,” wrote Robert Pear in The New York Times. He reported:

“Democrats complained that the Republicans were rushing to approve a repeal bill without hearing from consumers, health care providers, insurance companies or state officials — and without having estimates of the cost or the impact on coverage from the Congressional Budget Office.”

Padilla said that as Republicans try to “jam this through,” people need to call and visit their members of Congress with a clear message that the Affordable Care Act must be protected, and demand a CBO score for the proposed legislation.

The goal is to make sure that they don’t pass anything before the next recess.

“The goal is to make sure that they don’t pass anything before the next recess and that members hear from constituents at the next recess that they’re not going to put up with any of this,” Padilla said. Indivisible is expecting more town halls and other events during the congressional recess in April, he noted.

A number of surveys have found that public support for the ACA has grown since Election Day. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that more Americans view the law favorably than unfavorably — 48 percent, compared to 42 percent. Pew Research found that favorability for Obamacare reached a new high, with 54 percent of people approving of the law, compared to 43 percent who do not.

Over the February recess, many Republican lawmakers faced angry constituents at town halls and other events across the country — but many others didn’t face them at all. About 200 GOP lawmakers did not hold in-person events during the recess. On the Facebook page, hundreds of people wrote in about local town hall meetings across the country, a sampling of which is below.

Your Turn: With or Without You Town halls

Springdale, Arkansas

Susan Reece wrote in to tell us about the emotional and raucous town hall held by US Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) in Springdale, Arkansas, where police said 2,000 people attended.

At the event, in the video below, a woman who said the Affordable Care Act allows her to care for her terminally ill husband lashed out at Cotton. “You want to stand there … and expect us to be calm, cool and collected,” she said. “Well, what kind of insurance do you have?”

Perhaps Cotton is listening to his constituents. Today, in a series of tweets, Cotton said the House health care law needs “major changes” if it is to pass the Senate. He wrote, “To my friends in House: pause, start over. Get it right, don’t get it fast.”

He continued: “What matters in long run is better, more affordable health care for Americans, NOT House leaders’ arbitrary legislative calendar.”

Novi, Michigan

Diane Straub told us her representative, Dave Trott (R-MI), was traveling to India over the recess at a time when he is “supposed to be spending at home with constituents.”

About 200 constituents packed a public library holding a “David Trott town hall without David Trott,” and used a live chicken as a stand-in.

In an interview before he left for India, Trott made a statement basically guaranteed to irritate voters, saying that the “pro-Obamacare voters who want to meet with him in his district aren’t saying anything he hasn’t heard listening to cable news coverage of other protest events,” wrote Detroit Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson.

But, after weeks of trying to meet with Trott, constituents seem to be getting what they’ve been wanting all along. Last week, Trott announced plans to hold a large-scale town hall meeting later this month, with the venue and date still in the works.

Denver, Colorado

A photo of a cardboard cutout of Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) at a town hall meeting in Denver that he did not attend. (Photo by Tracy Harmon on twitter.)

A photo of a cardboard cutout of Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) at a town hall meeting in Denver that he did not attend. (Photoby Tracy Harmon on twitter.)

A number of people wrote to let us know that Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) also refused to hold a town hall. Instead, as Kelley Sanderson told us, more than 1,000 people showed up for a “With or Without You” town hall event hosted by the Colorado Springs chapter of the Colorado Action Network.

In protest, they asked questions about a number of issues, including the Affordable Care Act, to a cardboard cutout of Gardner, who, as Cathy Insley pointed out has called constituents “paid protesters.”

On Monday, Gardner, along with three other US senators, wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warning that they “couldn’t support the latest leaked version of the House plans because it doesn’t protect people who gained Medicaid under Obamacare,” according to Mother Jones. All four senators come from states (Colorado, Ohio, West Virginia and Alaska) that have accepted Medicaid expansion.

Allentown, Pennsylvania

Gisela Mcjunkins told us about the citizen town hall held in Allentown, Pennsylvania. “Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) did not attend, so it was held with an empty suit in his place. People took turns going up and talking about what the ACA means to them.” Here is the video she shared of the event.

On Monday, Toomey stopped in Philadelphia to meet with a “Tuesday with Toomey” group who have been protesting outside his offices across Pennsylvania. Last week in Philadelphia, several people were arrested following a sit-in. Toomey is now saying that he will “probably” hold a town hall there in the future.

Karin Kamp

Karin Kamp is a multimedia journalist and producer. She has produced content for, NOW on PBS and WNYC public radio and worked as a reporter for Swiss Radio International. She also helped launch The Story Exchange, a site dedicated to women's entrepreneurship.