As the Senate returned from July 4 recess on Monday, health activists followed their respective senators back to Washington D.C., kicking off a week that will likely be filled with last-ditch efforts from protesters to block the Senate health bill. The day ended with dozens of arrests.
Senate Republicans maintain that there is no bill and, as Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) contends, that health legislation is still “a work in progress.” But for the record, there is a bill; the Congressional Budget Office has said that it would cost 22 million people their health insurance by 2026.
Even so, Senate Republicans are looking to unveil a new draft of their legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The reworked bill could be released as early as Thursday, according to Politico.
With this as their backdrop, as many as 150 health activists stormed Capitol Hill Monday afternoon and staged so-called “unwelcome back” protests that varied in size and upheaval across Senate Republican offices.
Even though it looked as if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) did not have enough votes to pass a health bill, health activists were not deterred from flying or driving to Washington D.C. Bearing in mind the House health bill process, protesters know there is a chance McConnell could repeal and replace the ACA by August recess, the self-imposed deadline. After House Republicans returned from April recess, two amendments were introduced — one to appease conservative congressmen, the other to garner support from the moderates. In May, the American Health Care Act passed.
For today’s protesters, the Senate’s legislative process is reminiscent of the House’s. The Senate bill looks to have gathered some support from more of its conservative members, with the addition of the Cruz amendment. This amendment would allow insurance companies to offer any kind of plan, as long as at least one in each state marketplace complies with the ACA regulations.
And so activists deployed to as many as 12 Senate offices and a handful of House offices, and staged sit-ins. “Kill the bill” chants and Capitol Hill police whistles echoed the halls of the Russell Senate Office Building for the better part of the afternoon.
One of the first protests occurred inside the office of Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Flake has not said whether he’ll vote yes or no on the bill, although he has proposed his own ideas.
The sit-in was moderately calm at first. Protesters recited reasons why they opposed the bill. One activist — Sal Amador of Arizona activist group “Lucha,” which means struggle in Spanish — flew to D.C. Sunday to speak to his senator. Instead, he spoke at Flake’s staffers, and shared his own struggle. His father has Hepatitis C, and treatment is paid for partially by Medicaid. He is concerned with the cuts to funding in the current Senate bill.
“You cut Medicaid, you kill my father,” Amador told ThinkProgress, as members of his organization were being arrested by Capitol Hill police.
As many as 20 were arrested in the Russell Senate Office Building, one Capitol Hill police officer told ThinkProgress. Capitol Hill police said later said they arrested a total of 80 protesters over the course of the day.
Various protesters that participated in today’s event later, largely orchestrated through email chains, told ThinkProgress that they expect more in the coming weeks, as Senate republicans continue to negotiate the health care bill. The Senate’s self-imposed deadline is July 28, which is when senators are expected to break for August recess. However, as President Donald Trump tweeted out this morning, it’s hard to imagine they leave for break without any kind of heath bill.