Republicans Face Their Angry Constituents

angry constituents, Republicans, Congress, lawmakers, town halls, Affordable Care Act, travel ban
The health care debate leads the day. Original photo (which was cropped) by Ted Eytan via Flickr. (Some Rights Reserved.)

Since January, large groups of activists have confronted lawmakers at town halls and outside their offices. Many are concerned that Republicans will repeal the Affordable Care Act. The Democrats are facing a backlash for voting for Trump’s awful cabinet picks (but they at least all voted against Betsy DeVos, who is absolutely horrible as Education Secretary) and they were being lobbied to filibuster (obstruct) Neil Gorsuch (but we all know how that turned out).

By February, the Affordable Care Act, Barack Obama’s signature health care legislation, was climbing in popularity. Despite the polls, Republicans were taken advantage of Trump’s (limited) presence in the White House and rushing to repeal the health care law.

Notable Democrats have faced their crowds, but some Republicans are running scared. Some have cancelled town halls. Others have cut theirs short and used the police to escort them from the scary protesters.

Republicans were already feeling the pressure put on them by their constituents. Voters are still afraid the Republicans are trying to take away their health care. The lawmakers in question included:

  1. Justin Amash
  2. Gus Bilirakis
  3. Diane Black
  4. Rod Blum
  5. Kevin Brady
  6. David Brat
  7. Jason Chaffetz
  8. Mike Coffman.
  9. Barbara Comstock
  10. Tom Cotton

… And a few others.

(This post will be updated.)


Rep. Justin Amash

On Tuesday, January 17, Justin Amash addressed 250 people in a packed auditorium at the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Dozens more had to be turned away, but those who stayed asked him about his Republican colleagues’ plans for the Affordable Care Act.

That month, Amash joined eight other Republicans and Democrats in the House to vote against a reconciliation measure that would have begun the process of repealing the ACA. However, Amash’s constituents were worried about the process of repeal, what it entailed for Medicare coverage, and the effect it could have on millions of Americans.

Rep. Amash tried to say a process could be started by which the repeal was met with a state-by-state replacement. That was met with jeers and Amash had to clarify his statement:

You can have a repeal that is triggered by state replacement. In other words, you pass legislation to repeal. As states replace the legislation, then the repeal is triggered in that state. That is what I’m talking about.


Rep. Gus Bilirakis

For at least two consecutive weeks, Florida Rep. Gus Bilirakis held town halls with his constituents. But on February 11, he was jeered by attendees for insisting that people should have a choice when it comes to health care:

You gotta have choice, ladies and gentleman. People should have the opportunity to pay for their own plan based on their own needs.

This was likened to a statement Bill Akins made about the ACA in 2009, which was then recognized as the Lie of the Year by Politifact:

There is a provision in there that anyone over the age of 74 has to go before what is effectively a death panel.

After being booed and called a liar:

It’s in there folks. You’re wrong!

Bilirakis was in attendance of that town hall and tried to restore order shortly before Akins called the crowd “children.”

Fast forward to 2017.

This time, Bilirakis made his statement even after hearing from a constituent who said his daughter’s life was saved due to the ACA. The man said his daughter had a genetic disease. The health care law enabled her and many others to receive treatment they otherwise could not if they had to pay out of pocket.


Rep. Diane Black

On the whole, Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock avoided talking to voters at two town halls set up to talk about the ACA and the travel ban. But her constituents still had an earful for her.

In this video taken from CNN, Brooke Baldwin interviews Jessi Bohon and Mike Carlson, two voters who attended Rep. Diane Black’s town hall meeting in Tennessee. Bohon said that as a Christian, she “was taught to pull up the sick”; she questioned why people are being forced into high-risk insurance pools, which cost more and give people less coverage. Carlson said that he needed insurance coverage and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (A.K.A. “Obamacare”) without a replacement would lead to the (early) deaths of countless people.

Deborah Johnson, Eric Hughes, Mike Carlson, and Jessi Bohon were four Tennesseans featured in this piece by CNN. The four attended a February town hall to ask Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) about the Republicans’ plan to appeal the Affordable Care Act. In particular, Bohon asked why Congress did not look into expanding Medicare.

The scene sharply contrasted the scene from 8 years ago. In 2009, Americans across the country were protesting the implementation of the ACA. Now, more Americans appreciate it and don’t want to see it repealed.


Rep. Rod Blum

On Monday, May 8, Iowa Rep. Rod Blum hosted a town hall in his home state. The meeting lasted over an hour but it was marked by one statement he made — and the viral response to it.

In the middle of his town hall, Rep. Blum said he wanted to “get rid of some of these crazy regulations that Obamacare puts on” Americans, “such as a 62-year-old male having to have pregnancy insurance.” (Rod Blum was obviously referring to himself, since he turned 62 in April.)

Like Bilirakis, Blum tried to make this about “choice,” but his statement was extremely shortsighted and ignorant.

In response, Iowa resident Barbara Rank, 63, who resides in Hidden Oaks Court, Dubuque, in Iowa. She was in attendance of that town hall, wrote this opinion that was sent into the Dubuque Telegraph Herald:

Congressman Rod Blum in a Dubuque town hall (Monday) night asked, “Why should a 62-year-old man have to pay for maternity care?”

I ask, why should I pay for a bridge I don’t cross, a sidewalk I don’t walk on, a library book I don’t read?

Why should I pay for a flower I won’t smell, a park I don’t visit, or art I can’t appreciate? Why should I pay the salaries of politicians I didn’t vote for, a tax cut that doesn’t affect me, or a loophole I can’t take advantage of?

It’s called democracy, a civil society, the greater good. That’s what we pay for.

Later on, John Ferland, a representative for Blum, said Blum’s comments were “taken out of context.”

He was referring to the idea of patients being able to choose health insurance policies that fit their needs, rather than one-size-fits-all policies filled with government mandates. Obviously, he understands that taxes pay for things that not everybody uses.


Rep. Kevin Brady

Kevin Brady of the House Ways and Means Committee scheduled an event in his Texas district to discuss the Affordable Care Act. He tried his best to limit the number of attendees and weed out non-Republicans by holding the meeting at a local Chamber of Commerce headquarters, not announcing the event to the public, and tried to steer the conversation about “rising costs and loss of coverage and choice.” However, he was met by dozens of angry voters.

On Saturday, February 25, Kevin Brady failed to show up at a town hall organized through Indivisible Guide. The two-hour meeting took place at the sixth floor of the Conroe Tower. Brady had his office issue a statement with the excuse that Brady was tied up because of obligations connected to the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) which he attended on Friday.

An invitation to the town hall was hand-delivered to one of Brady’s aides. But since Brady didn’t attend, attendees placed a photo of him in an empty chair.

The town hall still went on as planned, attended by about 250 of Brady’s constituents, who were educated about the Affordable Care Act, immigration, education, and activism.

One of the speakers at the town hall event was Katie Pickard, a 41-year-old software educator, from Montgomery. Her family is covered by her workplace insurance, but her husband suffers from a recurring form of cutaneous lymphoma. She is worried that her husband will approach a “cap” on lifetime benefits, although the ACA made it illegal for HMO’s to deny coverage for anyone with a preexisting condition.


Rep. David Brat

Virginia Rep. Dave Brat has refused to meet with his constituents indefinitely. On Saturday, January 28, he met with conservative groups and complained about women getting up in his grill and asking when his next town hall meeting was.

Since Obamacare and these issues have come up, the women are in my grill no matter where I go. They come up and say, ‘When’s your next town hall?’ And believe me, it’s not to give positive input.

The following Monday, he posted a Facebook message to announce he would not hold another town hall meeting into the 100-day conservative agenda — which included the full repeal of the ACA — was implemented.

(For his part, Brat has only suggested health savings accounts as a replacement for the ACA. However, the plan would only benefit the rich and it wouldn’t really help people with serious medical conditions.)

Additionally, Brat has accused the protestors in his district (the 7th district in Virginia) of being paid protestors, much like the Tea Partiers from 8 years ago. However, he has no basis for this claim.


Jason Chaffetz

On Wednesday, April 19, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz announced he would not be running for reelection — or any other office — in 2018. While he expressed confidence he would be able to win by large margins and viewed his seat as reliably Republican, he did not give a clear explanation why he was stepping down, other than a desire “to return to the private sector.”

Why He’s Notable

Chaffetz is currently the Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Ethics Committee, a position he has held since 2015. If he had stayed in Congress, he could have held that position until 2020 due to GOP-imposed rules.

Chaffetz is notable for that position. [After Trey Gowdy passed the Benghazi baton,] Chaffetz took the lead in investigating Hillary Clinton’s use or a private email server just ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

On the contrary, Chaffetz refused to investigate Michael Flynn’s connections to Russia and Trump’s, for that matter. (The hypocrisy angered a number of his constituents.)

Rep. Chaffetz is also notable for comments he made about Americans who need health insurance.

Why He’s Stepping Down

As many would guess, this decision may have a lot to do with his falling approval ratings and the response he had received from his town hall meetings.

Chaffetz’s approval ratings among voters in the 3rd Congressional District fell from a high of 73.5% in 2016 to just 52% in April 2017. That was also a 14-point drop from a similar poll in February 2017. Among all Utah voters, Chaffetz’s had a 49%/41% approval/disapproval rating.

Among the reasons for Chaffetz’s falling numbers were his stances on investigating Michael Flynn and Donald Trump. Chaffetz also was spotted using campaign funds to purchase an $800 iPhone after making comments that poorer residents should steer away from buying the same product in order to afford health insurance.

After being booed at a February town hall, the congressman whined and said the protesters were part of “a paid attempt to bully and intimidate.”

Seat Challenge?

This is Chaffetz’s fifth term in office. He first won election to the House of Representatives in 2008.

Chaffetz was facing a “long-shot” Democratic challenge for his seat in 2018. In March, Kathryn Allen raised $400,000 more than Chaffetz did for the 2018 race, mainly after those comments.


Rep. Mike Coffman

In mid-January 2017, Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman was met by 200 protesters outside a Library in Aurora, CO. That was a surprise because Coffman scheduled a small “community event” at an Aurora library from 2:00 pm to 3:30 pm in order to talk about Republican plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. After meeting with “four people at a time for five minutes each,” he asked for police help to cardon off a section surrounding the library so he could sneak out the back door.

The pressure Coffman faced was being felt across the country as Americans rallied to resist Republican plans to mess with their healthcare.

Why He’s Notable

Mike Coffman is the same person who said the following:

I don’t know whether Barack Obama was born in the United States of America. But I do know this, that in his heart, he’s not an American. He’s just not an American.

Coffman later apologized and gave an “unintentionally hilarious” statement concerning his apology when confronted by a local reporter.

In this video from Local 9News, investigative reporter Kyle Clark confronted Republican Colorado Rep. Mike Coffin just as the congressman was going to a closed meeting with fundraisers. When asked about his demeaning comments about President Barack Obama, Coffin just repeated one phrase over and over.

Coffman promised to stand up to Trump if The Donald won election.

It should be noted that congressman is in a highly competitive district.

Quotes from Protesters

Berthie Ruoff and Kronda Seibert showed up at the Aurora Central Library where Rep. Mike Coffman appeared. His representatives said he expected a much smaller crowd and he only met with a handful of constituents out of the more than 200 who showed up. Unfortunately, Ruoff was not among those who got to see her congressman.

Seibert wanted to talk about her concerns about the Republican plan to appeal the Affordable Care Act. However, she ended up trying to organize the crowd.

Kronda Seibert said this of the gathering:

The representative didn’t have a plan. They expected just a small handful of people to show up. We were under the understanding it was a town hall meeting and they were only allowing four people in at a time.

Aurora Resident Stephanie Brook Sanchez, said the following:

We were told at one point everyone would get their time and then he sneaks out six minutes early. I think he couldn’t handle it.

Ruoff’s story was especially trying. Her late husband was the one who had insurance and Ruoff is a breast cancer survivor. Under the older health care system, she would be rejected from most health plans because she had a preexisting condition.


Rep. Barbara Comstock

Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock stood up her constituents at two meetups set up to talk about the ACA and the travel ban.

Comstock, who is known as a “centrist” Republican, invited her constituents to meet her during “mobile office hours” on Saturday, January 28, at two grocery stores in Lorton and Oakton, VA. According to the invitation, she would be there to answer questions about issues important to votes. However, she never showed up there or at Dulles International Airport, where some people were experiencing via problems to do Trump’s travel ban.

Residents who had prepared to meet their congresswoman were livid. Yvonne Sayers, a resident of Ashburn, VA, said one unprepared assistant appeared at an event in Comstock’s stead. Sayers and others were particularly frustrated because the assistant could only write down questions and concerns, as opposed to giving answers.

Comstock’s representatives said the information on the invitations was “in error” and “she should have said staff” would be in attendance at those grocery store meetups.

Notes

Dulles International Airport rests on the edge of Comstock’s 10th district in Northern Virginia.

The district Comstock serves is “purple” since there are as many Democrats as there are Republicans. Regardless, she won that district by six points in the last election cycle.

Comstock’s deputy chief of state, Jeff Marschner, said his boss was at three other constituent events on Jan. 28. One focusing on human trafficking was supposedly held that morning in Loudoun, VA. And there was supposedly an afternoon celebration of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year.

Democratic Reps. Gerry Connolly and Jamie Raskin did visit Dulles Airport over that same weekend.


Tom Cotton

Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton was avoiding his constituents early on in the new session of Congress. On Tuesday, January 31, constituents who tried to meet with Cotton’s staff were instead met with a locked door. One staffer only communicated with the group via an intercom. According to the staffer, the workers there were instructed by the D.C. office not to talk to constituents due to “recent threats.”

From a look at Cotton’s Twitter feed, it appeared he had met with other constituents in D.C. around that same time. But his staff cancelled a meeting with members of Ozark Indivisible which was planned for Thursday, Feb. 2. That meeting, which was to be held at Cotton’s Springdale office, was not rescheduled.


Conclusion

This is just a sampler, but you can see how intense the debate is with angry constituents across the country. The leading issue is health care, and lawmakers from both parties have to answer the tough questions. This includes the Democrats, who I’ll address in my next post.

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