Since January, angry constituents have met with their lawmakers at town halls and other meetings. In addition, some lawmakers have faced pressure via phone calls and social media. Many of these communications were contentious and most had the same theme: health care. Other topics ranged from Trump’s cabinet picks to money in politics.
Two days ago, I shared some information from Republican town halls. Now, it’s the Democrats’ turn.
This time, I would like to focus on these lawmakers:
- Cory Booker
- Dianne Feinstein
- Joe Manchin
- Claire McCaskill
- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
- Scott Peters
- Sheldon Whitehouse
(This post may also be updated as I find some more interesting confrontations.)
On January 12, 2017, thirteen Democratic senators joined 39 Republican senators to vote against a prescription drug resolution introduced by Sens. Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker was among them. By contrast, Twelve Republicans (including Ted Cruz) joined 34 Democrats in support of the resolution.
Among the reasons Cory Booker and a few other Democrats listed for voting against the bill was the concern over safety. However the text of the resolutions included the words “safe and affordable prescription drugs.” And what Booker said was very close to pharmaceutical industry speak, raising eyebrows.
That resolution’s defeat is another reason why voters on the left are angry with select Democrats. In this case, the resolution was a “largely symbolic” action which only would have instructed congressional committees to look into the issue of importing drugs from other countries. All told, importing drugs from Canada may have only reduced American drug spending by $4 billion, or about 1%.
After his vote, Booker faced some backlash (including on Facebook). By late February, Booker came around to supporting the drug prescription resolution, but he said he was able to support it because some safety measures were added.
By February 28, the following senators also supported Sanders’ bill: Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), along with Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Angus King (I-ME).
Sen. Dianne Feinstein
At two April town halls, California Sen. Feinstein was questioned about many things, from Syria to supporting single payer as an alternative to the Affordable Care Act. (In fact, the latter would be an improvement.)
At a Los Angeles meeting at a church, Feinstein was asked specifically about supporting a Medicare for All Bill in the Senate. Both times, she said she was opposed to a government “takeover of all medicine in the United States.” For that, she was roundly booed.
Feinstein was also questioned by TYT Politics’ Mike Tracy after the Los Angeles town hall. Parts of the meeting can be seen in the following video.
Days after meeting with constituents, Sen. Dianne Feinstein met with health industry leaders at a fundraiser in Washington, D.C. It was held at the office of Avenue Solutions, “a lobbying firm that represents major health insurers, pharmaceutical companies and the primary trade association for doctors.”
Feinstein has received hundreds thousands of dollars from the health industry during her time as a U.S. senator. Over $592,000 have flowed to her campaign coffers from lobbyists, political action committees since 2013. She has raised a total of $655,822 between January and March of this year, with over $180,000 of that coming from lobbyists and PAC’s.
Feinstein is currently 83 years old, making her the oldest member of the Senate currently. She has not explicitly said whether she will seek a fifth Senate term in 2018, but she has hinted that she will and again, she has been raising funds.
She may be challenged next year, but experts agree Feinstein would have a good chance of retaining her seat.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin has angered those in the progressive wing in the Democratic Party lately due to his words and his actions. Among the Democrats in the Senate, he and Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota) have supported more of Trump’s cabinet picks, and Neil Gorsuch’s nomination. Manchin in particular voted for Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General (when that man was unfit to be a judge) and Manchin was critical of his Democratic colleagues on the issue of Gorsuch.
There are voters in his state who feel that Manchin is “too conservative.” He has fashioned himself as closer to Trump than to Obama and votes with Republicans more than Democrats.
Although Democrats in “red states” have used triangulation in order to grab seats in those states, it may come at a great political cost still. Manchin wants to appeal to Republicans, but it turns out many of those voters care more about health care and jobs. Although WV is looked at as “coal country,” coal jobs are disappearing and workers there may need to have training for green jobs.
Bernie Sanders won 55 counties in those states in 2016. And when the Vermont senator visited WV in a March town hall event hosted by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, it was moderately successful.
A Primary Challenge?
In a February phone call with West Virginian voters, Sen. Joe Manchin told his listeners that they “ought to” look for someone who could primary him if they did not like the way he voted in Congress.
What you ought to do is vote me out. Vote me out. I’m not changing. Find somebody else who can beat me and vote me out.
When asked by a caller if that was “an invitation or a threat,” Manchin said:
Sure, it’s an invitation, you ought to. I can tell that, because we’re on different pages. Are you a Bernie Sanders guy?
Manchin faces reelection next year. He is one of 10 Democrats in states up for reelection in states Trump won.
Currently, one challenger has emerged. Paula Swearengin, a 42-year-old self-described “daughter of a coal-miner,” is a Justice Democrat who wants to take Manchin’s seat next year.
Sen. Claire McCaskill
Sen. Claire McCaskill is a pro at doing town halls. During Congress’ recess, she was making the rounds with constituents in at least 8 town halls in one week. She openly and earnestly answered questions Missouri voters sent her way and most of those answers earned her applause.
But of course, during a town hall meeting at The Old Glass Place in downtown Springfield on April 14, there were a couple of moments where listeners were disappointed. In particular, McCaskill fell short on the top issues in the country: health care and campaign finance.
Near the 10 ½-minute mark, the 63-year-old McCaskill gave two answers that fell short.
- When talking about campaign finance, she made a few good points, mentioning things like disclosure and her opposition to Citizens United. However, she said that she could be weaned off of corporate cash if voters could give her more money. (Voters who care about campaign finance reform argue politicians should stop taking corporate funds first then start crowdfunding.)
- When asked about her views on single payer, the senator said she was against single payer. She said she was worried about the cost and when she gave her answer, the crowd fell silent.
McCaskill also stumbled when tackling the issue of climate change and green energy. Near the 17 ½-minute mark, said her “flawed” record was really a reflection of her pragmatism and concerns over affordability.
Reason to Fear a Primary Challenge?
McCaskill acknowledged some dissention among the Democratic ranks months ago.
At a fundraiser in March, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill (Missouri) expressly stated her fear that she might face a primary challenge in 2018, when she is up for reelection. She aimed her comments at Democrats and progressives who may have supported Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primaries.
All of you who are Bernie supporters … I need you. I want you. I want to talk to you. I want you to be part of our effort. We can’t get divided in a state like Missouri, or we’re cooked.
In particular, McCaskill expressed a fear the Republicans might want to “return the favor for 2012.
I’m a little worried about a primary against me because I think the Republicans would want to return the favor. I think the Republicans might give a lot of money to one of my primary opponents doing a similar thing to what I did for Todd Akin.
That year, McCaskill’s team released advertisements aimed at promoting Akin to be the Republican nominee by showing his conservative credentials. Eventually, Akin self-destructed as he said in cases of “legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” McCaskill won reelection in a squeaker.
The audio of the March 2017 fundraiser was leaked by the Missouri State Republican Party.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
At a few town hall events she attended this year, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi gave a few unsatisfactory answers. In particular, she was asked about single payer, the Democrats’ view on former FBI Director James Comey, and who the leader of the Democratic Party was at the moment.
In late March, Nancy Pelosi took part in a town hall event hosted by Anderson Cooper on CNN. One of the questions Cooper asked Pelosi was who the current leader of the Democratic Party was. Pelosi struggled a bit before saying she thought Obama (who was no longer in office) and Hillary Clinton (who had just lost in November) were the two current leaders.
Days after her March CNN town hall, Nancy Pelosi attended a town hall meeting in San Francisco, her home town. At one point, she was asked about single payer. She said she was in favor of single payer before she was first elected by Congress yet claimed that the Affordable Care Act was in some ways more liberal. That elicited boos.
While she was being interrupted, Rep. Pelosi lectured her crowd:
Yes, yes, yes! Do you want to listen or do you just want to speak?
Some then yelled to asked her if she supported single payer, to which Pelosi said, “I have always supported that. I have been supporting it before you were born.”
At a May town hall event hosted by CNN’s Chris Cuomo, Nancy Pelosi was asked about her party’s stance on James Comey. As many of us know, he was fired two weeks ago, which set off a crazy series of events. (I may need to talk about that later.)
Regardless, the Democrats were put in a precarious position. While a number of Democrats still blame Comey and see him as a factor in Hillary Clinton’s stunning 2016 electoral loss — and in fact, some, like “Auntie Maxine,” felt Comey had not credibility — they could not support Trump’s decision to fire the FBI director. Yet, the outrage may look to select voters as fake and hypocritical.
Here’s Pelosi’s answer to the question:
We believe that the FBI is… an independent law enforcement agency to be respected, and [the director is] not to be fired by the president because he’s tired of an investigation they’re doing.
She didn’t fully answer the question.
Rep. Scott Peters
Sometime in February, California Democratic Representatives Susan Davis and Scott Peters addressed a crowd of 700 constituents at a workshop at Corky McMillin Companies Event Center at Liberty Station.
This article was accompanied by a video. In the video, Peters was asked what the Democratic Party stood for and he could offer nothing but platitudes.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse
On Sunday, January 29, 2017, a large crowd of demonstrators who opposed Trump’s travel ban walked all the way to Nathan Bishop Middle School in Providence, Rhode Island to talk to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. The Democrat was holding a community dinner at the school.
After the school auditorium reach capacity, the protestors outside made such a ruckus they eventually convinced Sen. Whitehouse to step outside and field questions. In particular, the protesters were opposed to Whitehouse’s votes for Trump cabinet picks, including: James Mattis for Secretary of Defense; former Gov. Nikki Haley for U.N. Ambassador; Gen. John Kelley for the head of Homeland Security, and; former Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) as the head of the CIA.
Pompeo was seen as a horrible choice because he wouldn’t rule out bringing back CIA torture programs like waterboarding. Whitehouse conceded, saying:
I will concede right off the bat that I may have been wrong. This is not one of those areas where I think it’s black-and-white.
However, Whitehouse has defended his vote for Mattis saying “that it was important to get people into position to form basically a cordon of maturity of people who had experience in these areas around the White House in this very dangerous opening period.”
Despite this, the crowd wanted Whitehouse and other Democrats to do their best to obstruct and opposed the Republicans at every turn. They gave him a list of nominees still on the docket and wanted him to vote no on everyone. In addition, they did not want him or other Democrats to even speak to Neil Gorsuch, but he cut them off at that juncture, insisting it was imported to at least hear from the guy. (He was dead wrong because the Republicans would not so much as talk to Merrick Garland.)
Just like the Republicans, the Democrats found voters who were concerned about health care. But the issues the Democrats faced on the whole were more varied, but that’s because they get to the heart of what is troubling the Democratic Party at the moment.
Now, this leads into my topic about the rift on the left. That is a mirky subject to tackle, but it needs to be done.
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