House lawmakers are back in their home districts this week for a short recess — which, for some Republicans, means walking straight into a storm of constituent anger over their vote to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA), also known as Trumpcare.
While most House Republicans were willing to be vocal about their support for the bill from the safety of the Rose Garden — where they celebrated AHCA’s passage through the House with speeches and selfies — many lawmakers this recess are avoiding defending their vote to their own constituents.
According to a list compiled by TownHallProject.com, a crowd-sourced list of congressional district events, only 14 of the 217 lawmakers who voted for the bill are holding in-person town hall events this recess. But even with their members absent, a lot of people are finding creative ways to express their outrage with the vote.
Dozens of protests are planned across the country — many of them timed to coincide with lawmaker visits and staged on capitol grounds. In Madison, Wisconsin, activists staged a die-in at the capitol.
— Indivisible Madison (@IndivisMadison) May 7, 2017
In Arkansas, those upset with the bill also staged a die-in — including Kati McFarland, a young woman with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome whose confrontation of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) at a February town hall went viral.
“Without the coverage for pre-existing conditions, I will die,” she told Cotton then. The health care bill passed by the House allows states to roll back protections on preexisting conditions — and McFarland attended the protest carrying her own tombstone.
— Ozark Indivisible (@OZRKIndivisible) May 7, 2017
Constituents are also planning their own town halls to shame their absent representatives. In Amityville, New York on Sunday, over 300 people gathered at one such event, dubbed a “woman’s town hall,” to meet with Rep. Peter King (R-NY).
According to organizers, King hasn’t had an in-person town hall in 12 years. And when he responded to public pressure to meet with constituents with a teletown hall in March, constituents protested that the controlled format allowed him to screen questions. He also took four times as many questions from men as from women.
“You don’t select nearly four times as many men as women by accident. That is why we are holding a Women’s Town Hall — to give King’s constituents a voice, to give women the opportunity to ask questions about how Donald Trump’s agenda affects our lives personally,” said Luiba Grechen Shirley, founder of the 2nd District Democrats.
— NOW-NYC (@NOW_NYC) May 7, 2017
The AHCA, which defunds Planned Parenthood, cuts Medicaid, and rolls back requirements that insurers cover services like birth control and maternal care, would be especially devastating for women’s health care access.
King failed to show, and attendees instead heard from other speakers, including Shirley, NOW NY President Sonia Ossorio, and local Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre.
Other empty-chair town halls are planned in Rep. Mimi Walters’ (R) California district, Rep. Mark Meadows’ (R) North Carolina district, and Rep. Roger Williams’ (R) Texas district.
In other districts, when Republicans fail to show up, Democrats are visiting their constituents instead. Rep. Sean Maloney (D-NY) met with over 400 of Rep. John Faso’s (R-NY) constituents — who live in the next district over from Maloney’s — on Monday when Faso declined the invitation.
Congressman Maloney did a Town Hall meeting because John Faso wouldn't. "As long as he keeps dodging town halls, I'll keep coming back!" pic.twitter.com/jKOCRDKYYK
— SeriouslyUS? (@USseriously) May 9, 2017
During an appearance on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show, Maloney said that if Faso wouldn’t show up to explain his health care vote to his constituents, he would. Others on Twitter are imploring more lawmakers to do the same under the hashtag “#adoptadistrict.” In Arizona on Tuesday, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D) will similarly be holding a town hall in Tuscon — right in the middle of Republican Rep. Martha McSally’s district.
— Indivisible S. AZ (@Indivisible_SAZ) May 7, 2017
When Republican lawmakers do show up, so far, they’ve been getting an earful. In Plattsburg, New York, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R) held a live-taped town hall at a local television station, where the mood was “icy and tense,” according to NPR. Outside, protesters gathered with signs and chanted “shame.”
Stefanik, a moderate, contributed one of a handful of last-minute votes that helped the bill pass.
— Zach Hirsch (@zdhirsch) May 8, 2017
In Iowa, Rep. Rod Blum got testy in response questions about why he was requiring people to show ID before being allowed in to his town hall, walking out of a televised interview. At the town hall itself, a crowd of about 1,000 constituents booed and waved red pieces of paper to indicate their anger at his answers.
Woman is worried about future of Medicare and coverage for pre-existing conditions. Blum tries to reassure her. Watch this exchange. pic.twitter.com/sjhpYBs33N
— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) May 9, 2017
When one elderly woman asked if he would agree never to take money from the Koch brothers, the crowd cheered and waved green pieces of paper — only to break out in loud boos when Blum dodged the question.
“I am not going to be here tonight saying that I am or I’m not taking money from whatever group, because the Democrats do the same thing,” he said.
Blum’s Monday event was the first of four town halls he’s holding this week.