One House Democrat was in enemy territory Monday night, and he was on a mission.
“I’m Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney,” the New York lawmaker told a crowd gathered at an industrial event space in Kingston in a neighboring Empire State district. “Where the heck is your congressman?”
Maloney was participating in his “Adopt a District” event, an idea he had after he found out that the 19th District’s Republican congressman, Rep. John J. Faso, was not holding town hall meetings during the weeklong House recess.
So far, at least three other House Democrats are planning to do the same, though Maloney said the effort is not centrally organized.
“This is grass-roots democracy in action and [Republicans] better pay attention to it,” Maloney said in a Tuesday phone interview. “This is not a central plan that any of us is executing on.”
Maloney’s office confirmed he was not working with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to encourage other Democrats to adopt GOP districts, though Faso is a DCCC target for 2018. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates his race Tilts Republican.
A political stunt?
Faso’s district is also not the only DCCC target where a House Democrat is holding an event this week. Rep. Ruben Gallego was scheduled to travel to Tucson, Arizona, on Tuesday night for an event on the Republican health care bill, also known as the American Health Care Act.
GOP Rep. Martha McSally, who represents parts of Tucson, is not holding a town hall meeting there over the recess, so Gallego, from the Phoenix-based 7th District, has said he will do it for her.
“It’s a little bit unconventional for sure, but if Republicans are not going to hold themselves accountable for their actions … it’s up to us to call them out on that,” said Enrique Gutierrez, a spokesman for the Arizona Democratic Party.
Democrat Hillary Clinton carried McSally’s district by 5 points last fall, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections, making McSally a top Democratic target. Inside Elections rates her race as Likely Republican.
McSally’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the event, but Faso spokeswoman Courtney Weaver sharply criticized Maloney’s similar event in New York.
“This is a purely partisan political rally,” she said in a statement.
Weaver referenced a recent “Pattern for Progress” event where Faso and Maloney pledged to work together.
“Now Maloney has reverted to form as a hyper-partisan seeking to advance himself in the eyes of his patrons in Albany and Washington,” she said. “It’s sad.”
Maloney said that criticism is not going to cut it.
“If John Faso doesn’t like the town hall I did, he should do his own,” he said.
Politics did come up at the Kingston, New York, event, with Maloney reminding the crowd of the 2018 midterm elections.
“Next year, you’re going to have an opportunity to change the whole course of this thing,” Maloney told the crowd.
And with a lack of clear Democratic challengers in some of these GOP districts, Gutierrez said it is helpful to have House Democrats like Gallego stepping up to call out the Republican incumbent.
“He does become a voice,” the Arizona Democratic Party spokesman said.
Gutierrez said Democrats were still in the process of recruiting challengers for McSally, and a number of candidates have expressed interest. Events like “Adopt a District” can help Democrats sustain the grass-roots energy in the party, he said.
“We’re telling them, ‘Yes, right now, we’re fighting, but you have to prepare for the bigger stage, which will be November 2018,’” Gutierrez said.
Though the Arizona Democratic Party organized Gallego’s event, Maloney said he planned his event with local officials, labor groups and activists from Indivisible, a group with chapters across the country that has been holding events calling on members of Congress to face their constituents.
Indivisible has also planned an an event in Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s district Friday, featuring Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan. Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton also wants to participate in an “Adopt a District” event, though he has yet to decide when and where, according to his office. (All districts in the Bay State are represented by Democrats.)
Both Moulton and Gallego said they were inspired by Maloney’s decision to adopt Faso’s district. Maloney came up with the idea after he saw one of Faso’s constituents on MSNBC. The constituent, Andrea Mitchell, had asked Faso to promise to protect coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, a promise that she said was broken when Faso voted for the GOP health care bill last week.
Mitchell, who has suffered three small strokes and a heart attack, joined Maloney at the crowded town hall meeting Monday night.
“Saying pre-existing conditions will be covered isn’t enough, because access isn’t the same thing as affordability,” she said. “Everyone heard that promise and here we are, fighting for health care, hoping that the Senate will listen to us and protect health care in this country.”
Pressure on the Senate
The health care legislation has now moved to the Senate, where Republicans are expected to craft a bill that differs from the House version.
Maloney warned the crowd Monday not to take solace in reports that the Senate would improve the bill.
“This is the moment. This is the fight,” he said. “It’s going to be right now.”
Maloney explained in an interview that highlighting the pressure faced back home by House Republicans who voted for the bill would catch the attention of senators crafting their own proposal.
“When members of the United States Senate see the damage being done to these House members, they’re going to think twice,” he said.
Democratic campaign groups are already putting pressure on GOP senators not to support the House version. Shortly after the bill passed the House last week, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released a YouTube ad on the bill’s effects in Nevada and Arizona, where GOP Sens. Dean Heller and Jeff Flake are key targets in 2018.
In addition to the political goals of the “Adopt a District” events, Democrats are also simply looking for answers on the GOP proposal.
“There’s a widespread and intense energy out there to get answers about what the Republican health care bill does,” Maloney said. “If the Republicans think they can go into hiding on this, they’re making a big mistake.”