Liberal activists fighting to save Obamacare are seeking to capitalize on an unexpected gift — at least another week, if not more, before the Senate GOP will bring its repeal plan to the floor.
Progressive groups already had stocked this week with public protests against the Republican legislation, expecting a make-or-break vote. But Sen. John McCain’s absence from the Capitol following surgery for a blood clot handed the left a major opportunity to rally opposition and keep the spotlight on the GOP’s struggle to even begin debate on a bill that polls dismally with the public.
Activists are preparing protests well into next month aimed at keeping the pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) conference, particularly the half-dozen most closely watched moderate swing votes.
“Every day the Senate doesn’t repeal ACA and gut Medicaid is a day that makes it less likely they’ll be able to,” MoveOn.org Washington director Ben Wikler told reporters. "Every day this bill is dangling out there in public, it becomes more unpopular."
The fresh push kicked off on Monday. The Bernie Sanders-backed group Our Revolution staged sit-ins at a half-dozen Senate GOP offices throughout the day, while the upstart liberal organization Indivisible prepared for more than 100 separate demonstrations in 39 states on Tuesday. More activist groups returned to the Hill for a series of near-daily rallies against the bill, with appearances by Democratic senators.
The right mounted no similar flurry of public activity in defense of the bill, underscoring the mismatch in grassroots energy between liberals and conservatives who had pressed McConnell to embrace a more straightforward repeal strategy.
And the harder McConnell pushes for a vote on uprooting the Affordable Care Act, the more his opponents relish his failure to notch that quick victory.
With only two public GOP no votes on taking up the bill — Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — activists are expecting to see several Republicans hop off the fence at once. They acknowledge that the extra time provided by McCain’s recuperation also gives McConnell time to cajole undecided Republicans one-on-one, but they’re banking on the imminent Congressional Budget Office score of the bill and other looming negative headlines to make the majority leader’s job even harder as the clock ticks toward August.
"Extra time matters a lot more when you’re appealing to the general public that despises this bill than it does when you’re playing an inside the Beltway game of trading buy-offs and favors with people who were listening anyway," Jesse Ferguson, a veteran Democratic strategist advising pro-Obamacare groups, said in an interview.
Rather than organize the sort of massive marches that anti-Trump groups favored earlier in the year, health care organizers are focusing on personal stories from constituents appealing directly to their senators. Capitol Police reported arresting 33 demonstrators in the Senate as of midday Monday during liberal groups’ protest actions.
"The message we’ve been telling our groups, especially the ones in D.C., is to go to an office," said Indivisible policy director Angel Padilla. "You want to go rally and march? Great! But if you want to be effective at congressional advocacy, go to your member’s offices and make sure they see you inside."
In that vein, Planned Parenthood is setting up a Wednesday event for supporters to share personal stories about how the seven-year-old health care law has helped them and call their senators, national organizing director Deirdre Schifeling told reporters. Another liberal group, UltraViolet, told reporters Monday that it had commissioned planes to fly in Ohio, Alaska, and West Virginia — all swing states represented by moderate Republicans undecided on the repeal bill.
Ferguson also identified another benefit to anti-repeal activists from the delay in a Senate vote: The CBO may have time to release a nonpartisan score of a new addition to the legislation, authored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), that would allow insurers to sell plans not compliant with Obamacare. Republicans had suggested they might rely on a score of the Cruz proposal from the Trump administration if the CBO were not able to finish an independent assessment in time for a vote this week.
"They would have to rely on whatever sham analysis" the Department of Health and Human Services could produce, Ferguson said, "but now they’ve lost that excuse."