WASHINGTON – Forty-three people were arrested Thursday during sit-in protests at GOP Senate offices around the country, according to groups leading an effort to block Republican plans to repeal and replace Obamacare.
“Our strategy is to get every Republican senator to vote ‘no,’” Diane May, communications director for Our Revolution, said in an interview Monday ahead of the protests. According to May, about 2,000 people participated in the demonstrations.
Our Revolution is a group committed to continuing the progressive agenda championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during his presidential run. For Thursday’s protest, the group teamed with Democracy Spring, Democratic Socialists of America, UltraViolet and The People’s Consortium. Democracy Spring is the civil resistance group that led demonstrations at the U.S. Capitol in April 2016, when more than 1,200 people were voluntarily arrested for protesting the influence of big money in politics.
Demonstrators filled GOP Senate offices in various districts around the country on Thursday and refused to leave until the targeted lawmakers agreed to oppose the GOP healthcare proposal. As of Friday, protesters remained in offices in Cincinnati, Columbus and Tallahassee, according to Democracy Spring, which noted in an email that Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) refused the groups’ request.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week punted on a potential vote for the American Health Care Act, which was renamed the Better Care Reconciliation Act in the upper chamber’s version of the bill, after legislation passed in the House in May.
At least four conservative senators have voiced opposition against the bill because it does not go far enough in replacing Obamacare: Texas’ Ted Cruz, Kentucky’s Rand Paul, Utah’s Mike Lee and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson. Additionally, moderate GOPs including Portman, Shelly Moore Capito (W.Va.), Susan Collins (Maine), and Dean Heller (Nev.) said the current bill goes too far with cuts that will wound their constituents. Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) also said this week that he couldn’t support the bill as it stands. McConnell reportedly delivered two separate versions of the healthcare bill to the Congressional Budget Office for a closer examination over the July 4 recess.
In order to pass the bill, the GOP will need at least two of the Republican holdouts to support the legislation. If the upper chamber is split evenly at 50-50, Vice President Mike Pence would serve as the tiebreaker. Republicans hold a 52-48 majority over Democrats and independents, who have argued that the Senate healthcare bill amounts to a massive tax cut for the wealthy, while also criticizing proposed Medicaid cuts.
The progressive groups leading Thursday’s sit-in all support a single-payer healthcare system, which was one of the major items Sanders championed in 2016. A single-payer system would offer government healthcare for all regardless of income, occupation or health condition.
May said that the groups have major concerns about the estimated 27 million who are currently without healthcare under the Affordable Care Act, as well as an additional 20 million or more who could lose their insurance under proposals from Republicans. The immediate goal, she said, is to shut down any potential for the current healthcare bill.
“We understand that (a single-payer system) is not something that could pass right now, but what we do know is that we have to absolutely stop this bill, so that 23 million people don’t lose their healthcare,” she said.
May said that protesters planned to share personal stories with staffers inside GOP Senate offices. If the offices were closed, participants demonstrated outside, or waited until Friday to lobby GOP senators. May also discussed earlier protests against the GOP healthcare bill. Last month, dozens of disability-rights protesters were arrested and dragged away from McConnell’s D.C. office.
“They really highlighted the importance of still having sit-ins, but America has a huge history of sit-ins, from the lunch counters to healthcare bill to the sit-ins (after the Supreme Court nomination of Neil Gorsuch),” May said. “It’s a really great, direct-action tool that we like to make sure we use because it’s a nonviolent tool, but it allows people to have their voices heard by the people in power.”