Policy

Protesters Rumble Through Senate Offices to Oppose Obamacare Repeal

Dozens arrested for refusing to disperse

Capitol Police lead arrested protesters out of the Hart Senate Office Building on Wednesday, July 19, 2017, as health care demonstrations popped up at Republican Senators' offices. Protesters called on GOP lawmakers to support a single payer, Medicare for All system. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

By GRIFFIN CONNOLLY and KYLE STEWART

The afternoon started quietly. Journalists and Capitol Police officers awaited the arrival of an expected 500 health care legislation protesters. The protesters must be running late, a staffer joked outside Sen. Pat Toomey’s office.

Soon, the hallways of the Russell Senate Office Building were filled with chants of “Healthcare is a human right” as protesters made their way from one office to another. It sounded like a high school cafeteria at lunchtime — filled with muffled voices, cheers, and chants.

Sen. Marco Rubio’s office was one of the first targets. Protesters crowded inside the Florida Republican’s office and chanted, “Kill this bill, don’t kill us!” A few told personal stories of struggles with health issues in between the rounds of chants.

More people filled Rubio’s office, pushing it past capacity. Capitol Police officers moved in to clear the crowd. While a handful of protesters stayed put, the majority retreated down the hallway shouting, “Kill the bill!”

Small groups of protesters would gather outside a Senator’s office to deliver call-and-response testimonials, with one person shouting a line of their story and others repeating it at full volume.

Outside the office of Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, a woman told the story of her daughter, who was born 13 weeks premature and weighed just one pound, 11 ounces.

“I’ve spent the last month walking more than 50 miles through these buildings fighting for my daughter’s life,” she shouted. “The ACA gave her a chance to live. Medicaid helped pay for this.”

A group moved to Sen. Cory Gardner’s office while another crowd gathered outside Toomey’s door.

Carrie Parkinson, a nurse practitioner at a clinic for veterans in Denver, Colorado, joined protesters from a variety of activist groups to stake out Gardner’s office.

“I see patients every day that are on Medicaid, and they won’t be able to get care,” Parkinson said. “It’s going to turn into another crisis like it was before, but we need to do it right this time. We need to not just patch it up, reform it, we need it to go away and have a single-payer system.”

On Trump calling for repeal without a replacement plan, Parkinson said: “Trump doesn’t have the answers, these aren’t the answers for the public. It’s not a utilitarian, beneficial decision to just repeal.”

Capitol police officers escorted roughly 25 protesters, hands bound in white zip ties, from the Russell Senate office building within an hour of the protest moving there. The police then corralled demonstrators along Delaware Ave. on the east side of the Upper Senate Park for processing.

Some continued chanting as they marched toward the police vans, but for others it was a businesslike, orderly affair.

“The police have been very professional,” said Shaquille Bulhi, an organizer for the Housing Works, an advocacy group in New York City for people with AIDS and HIV.

Protesters were given three warnings to leave the areas where they were protesting before the Capitol police stepped in to remove them, police and demonstrators said.

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