Police arrest activists protesting Trumpcare bill on Capitol Hill

The resistance is alive and well.

Activists in wheel chairs are arrested at the U.S. Capitol Monday. CREDIT: Kira Lerner
Activists in wheel chairs are arrested at the U.S. Capitol Monday. CREDIT: Kira Lerner

As the Senate’s first and only hearing on the latest Republican health care bill began on Capitol Hill Monday afternoon, police arrested dozens of activists — many in wheelchairs — who had lined up early in the morning to voice their opposition to the legislation.

“No cuts to Medicaid!” they yelled, the voices of more than 200 protesters echoing through the halls. “Save our liberty.” Inside the hearing room, lawmakers were forced to recess the hearing as police arrested a small number of activists who had been allowed inside to disrupt the proceeding.


Credit: Amanda Gomez/ThinkProgress

When the doors to the hearing opened, police said there would be room for just seven wheelchairs, despite the many disabled activists waiting in line. Bruce Darling, an organizer with disability rights group ADAPT, a grassroots disability rights organization, responded by yelling at police that people who had been there since sunrise should be let in before people he claimed were paid to wait in line.


Health activists told ThinkProgress they woke up as early as 3 a.m. and headed to Capitol Hill around 6 a.m to protest the bill. The Dirksen Senate office building doors opened at 8 a.m., and hundreds of activists, lined up and ready to to go, rushed in.

Monday’s hearing will be the only hearing for a health bill that’s saw anything but regular order. The bill’s legislative text released two weeks ago was changed and released Monday morning. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has still not released a comprehensive score on how many Americans stand to lose their health insurance under the bill.  The non-partisan Brookings Institution estimated — based on an earlier version of the bill — that 21 million fewer people will have insurance by 2026.

Activists, hailing from states from Vermont to Colorado, came to protest the unorthodox procedural process and the contents of the bill.

Roughly 75 police officers lined the halls. CREDIT: Kira Lerner

Although tweaked to garner attention from moderate Republicans, the bill, first proposed by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA), will still repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace subsidies and Medicaid expansion in 2020. The federal government would replace the previous funding stream and instead allow states to create their own block grant program. States — through waiver authority — can also roll back essential health benefits and allow insurers to raise premiums for sick patients or those with pre-existing conditions. Concurrently, starting in 2020, the proposal converts Medicaid — for low-income adults, children, elderly, and disabled — from a program that has open-ended federal financing to one that is limited to a set amount per enrollee.


The wait to get inside the hearing on Monday was largely peaceful. Occasional “kill the bill” chants echoed the Senate chambers. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) came out at one point, and gave activists pizza. “Can’t fight on an empty stomach,” the senator said.

Brendan Ezekiel, a Philidelphia resident and member of ADAPT, flew out the night before. His partner, Latoya, is on a Medicaid waiver that allows her to receive institutionalized care at home. He’s her direct care worker. Medicaid pays his paycheck and her care. He’s been to Washington D.C. a total of nine times since January, protesting the various Republican health bills that continually cut Medicaid.

As 2 p.m. inched closer, roughly 75 U.S. Capitol police officers lined the protesters. The Senate halls were interspersed with cheers for health care and yells for order. At one point, chants of “Access is a human right” broke out, as activists were informed that just a few of them would be allowed inside to watch the hearing in person.

Just before 2:15 p.m., finance committee chair Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) recessed the hearing until several protesters were arrested.

As individuals in wheelchairs waited to be escorted to the elevators, able-bodied protesters began lying on the ground, blocking the elevators.


This is story will be updated as the hearing and protests continue.