Columns

80 Arrested at Capitol Protesting GOP Healthcare Bill

Activists are surrounded by U.S. Capitol Police as they protest against the Republican healthcare bill outside the offices of Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on July 10, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON – Eighty people were arrested at Senate and House office buildings on Monday for protesting Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, and the progressive group leading the effort is planning for more arrests next week if the bill remains in consideration.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday announced plans to release a revised version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act, while also delaying the start of the chamber’s August recess by two weeks to further legislative efforts on healthcare, defense reauthorization and nominations. McConnell agreed to delay recess after requests from several Republican lawmakers to call off the summer break.

Monday’s arrests came nearly a week after the group Democracy Spring staged sit-in protests at GOP Senate offices around the country, in which demonstrators refused to leave the buildings until Republican senators agreed to oppose the healthcare legislation. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) rebuffed the group’s efforts.

Our Revolution, which furthers the progressive agenda championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during his presidential run, Democratic Socialists of America, UltraViolet and The People’s Consortium all joined Democracy Spring for the July 5 protests. Forty-three people were arrested in that effort. Democracy Spring also led protests 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.

According to U.S. Capitol Police, protests started around 2 p.m. Monday at 13 different locations at Senate and House office buildings. Demonstrators were asked to leave, and those who refused were arrested and charged with crowding, obstructing or incommoding. According to police, 59 arrests were made at Senate offices and 21 at House offices: 48 females and 32 males. A total of 80 arrests had been made by 4:30 p.m. Protesters have been using the slogan, “Kill the bill. Not us.”

“I think this is a really important time for conservative and Republican voters to speak up because if they look at the facts, they’ll see that, unless you’re a multi-billionaire big donor who’s looking for a huge tax break, then you’re going to be hurt by this bill,” Kai Newkirk, Democracy Spring mission director, said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s going to impact you and your family, and your loved ones are going to lose insurance, and it’s going to be more expensive, and someone you care about could be one of the thousands of people that will die next year.”

Republicans have pointed to a floundering Affordable Care Act that they say has allowed exorbitant premium hikes and the unnecessary loss of viable healthcare options in many counties and states around the country. Meanwhile, Democrats have said that the so-called Trumpcare legislation will mean even higher premiums and more than 20 million people losing health insurance, as well as significant losses to Medicaid programs.

Democracy Spring plans to stage additional protests July 17 in Washington, Newkirk said, adding that the group is attempting to bring attention to “how high the stakes are” with healthcare legislation. He argued that it’s difficult for Republicans to ignore the “suffering” their constituents will incur in favor of benefits to big-money donors.

“We think (the protests are) working and demonstrating in a very visceral way the strength of the opposition,” Newkirk said. “We are going to be back at the Capitol on Monday unless this bill is dead.”