Earlier this month, while the Senate was on recess for July 4th, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) held a town hall in a small Kansas town, not far from his hometown. In a deep red town with less than 300 people, Moran heard about the problems with his party’s Obamacare replacement bill from an audience of more than 100 vocal constituents, including his daughters’ pediatrician.
Eleven days later, Moran announced with his colleague, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), that the two would not be supporting the Senate health care bill. The move effectively killed the legislation and dealt a major blow to the Republican Party’s promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Moran has not said whether the town hall played a part in changing his mind, and any theories about his thinking would be speculation. After constituents at his town hall raised concerns about the legislation cutting Medicaid and failing to protect people with pre-existing conditions, Moran aligned himself with the GOP contingent who think the bill doesn’t go far enough to decimate Obama’s signature legislation.
But there’s no question that Moran felt political pressure. Ultimately, the bill’s massive unpopularity and the work by constituents in his state played a part in killing the legislation that cannot be discounted.
“From day one, from January, there’s been nonstop pressure on members of Congress to oppose this bill,” Indivisible Policy Director Angel Padilla told ThinkProgress. “We would not be here if not for the grassroots.”
Even though Moran may claim the bill isn’t conservative enough, Padilla said there’s no question that he listened to his constituents who felt the opposite.
“What a lot of these senators are looking for is an out,” he said. “They wanted some cover — something to give them an excuse to oppose the bill that they know will harm their constituents.” Someone like Moran can outwardly claim that the bill doesn’t go far enough, while also internalizing constituent concerns, Padilla said.
Moran’s Palco, Kansas town hall brought the most media attention to the resistance in his state, but Padilla and other Indivisible members noted that much of the work occurred behind the scenes, at his regional offices, at smaller rallies, over the phone, and through letters.
“If you really want to make an impact and change congressional behavior, you really need to be in a regional office as much as possible,” he said.
He noted that all of the actions together created “constant pressure” on members of congress to oppose the Republican health care plan.
“There’s no question all of it put together definitely had an influence,” Leslie Mark, a board member of Indivisible-KC, told ThinkProgress.
Almost every week since President Trump’s inauguration, Mark has led a protest at Moran’s office in Olathe, Kansas. While she was shocked to find out that Moran was one of the senators killing the bill, she told ThinkProgress that to know Kansas’ junior senator is to know that he listens to his constituents.
“At his core, he’s somebody who wants to relate to his neighbors,” she said. “He prides himself on that… That’s a core element of who Jerry Moran is. I don’t agree with him on much of anything, but I give him credit on that.”
Lee, a conservative senator from Utah who also came out against the bill on Monday, has not held an in-person town hall this year. He frequently leads “tele-town hall meetings,” including one last week, but those events leave little room for constituent comments or questions.
That hasn’t stopped Utah voters from pressuring their senator in recent weeks, holding rallies and protests at his offices, all in an effort to convince the senator that the legislation would hurt the people he was elected to protect.
But at her event in a small southwestern Iowa farm town last week, Ernst told ThinkProgress that she would not talk about her stance on the GOP’s bill, noting that all of the constituent concerns aired at the town hall would play a part in her final decision.
“I am not going to say whether I would or would not support that bill, because I am offering up my own ideas, my own suggestions, and I’d like to see them included in the bill,” Ernst said. “We’ll continue with those discussions.”