After riding the Tea Party wave into almost a decade of control over the House of Representatives, the Senate since 2015, and 33 state governorships (with 32 state legislatures, including a number since 2010, allowing them the power to redistrict after the most recent census), Republicans are starting to feel the pain that their Democratic counterpoints felt during the summer of 2009. Fueled by a shocking loss in November, Democrats have taken advantage of the Presidents’ Day recess to make their voices heard.
Across the country, Democratic constituents are taking cues from the Tea Party and speaking up to their representatives and senators. With the assistance of progressive organizations like MoveOn and Indivisible, constituents concerned about the current direction of the country and, specifically, the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are attending town halls en masse. While some congressional Republicans have chosen to avoid town halls entirely, that hasn’t been enough to discourage progressive activists. With the aid of sites like Resistance Recess, they have organized their own town halls and invited their representatives to come. No congressman? No problem. They’ve brought cutouts.
The scope and style of these demonstrations is not the only way in which they’re similar to the Tea Party pushback of 2009. These have been the inverse of many of the town halls from the Tea Party wave – while those centered on conservative constituents and their objection to the ACA, the ones we’ve seen this week have been the direct result of a mobilization of support FOR the ACA.
The future of the ACA has not been the only issue raised by constituents this week. In his town hall on Wednesday, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas (a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee) received pointed questions about investigations into the potential Russian connections to the Trump campaign and White House, as well as his proposed immigration plan (the “Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment” or RAISE Act) and prior statements on climate change. Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah (the current chair of the House Oversight Committee) faced questioning over the lack of inquiry into the unprecedented conflicts of interest in the Trump White House and gave a wholly unsatisfactory answer to the assembled crowd, saying “You’re not going to like this part: the president, under the law, is exempt from conflict of interest laws.” Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa was questioned about the President’s tax returns, among others.
However, as with many Tea Party town halls back in 2009, the Affordable Care Act was the center of attention. In a powerful show of solidarity, one questioner (a young woman with a preexisting condition who, as she reminded the senator numerous times, would be dead without the ACA) asked for everyone in attendance who had been affected by the ACA to stand. In a rare moment of quiet in the raucous nearly two hours, almost the entire crowd rose to their feet. Cotton also faced the question, “What kind of insurance do you have?” from a constituent whose husband suffers from dementia and a host of other ailments, who has gotten a great deal of relief from the ACA. Not everyone in attendance was a supporter of the ACA – one woman in the balcony took her allotted time to support Sen. Cotton’s repeal efforts.
While it may not be viewed as a “sexy” policy topic on Capital Hill, there is no doubt that Americans feel strongly about their health care. Democrats in 2009 didn’t take their constituents seriously and suffered the consequences in the intervening eight years. Republicans ought not to make the same mistake, lest they face a similar fate in 2018.