Politics

Senate Democrats Use the Floor and Facebook to Protest Obamacare Repeal

Democrats launched a coordinated push to speak out against GOP effort

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer used his leadership office to send the party message on Facebook. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

By BRIDGET BOWMAN and NIELS LESNIEWSKI

CQ Roll Call

Senate Democrats launched the first of what will likely be numerous efforts to derail Republican plans to repeal the 2010 health care law, taking to the Senate floor and social media Monday night in a talk-a-thon to portray the move as reckless and chaotic for the health care system.

“I think the point is to send a clear message to the country, to the American people that, No. 1, we’re going to do everything we can to prevent Senate Republicans from destroying the Affordable Care Act,” Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen said. “We’re focused on making sure that we get on the Senate floor and talk about the damaging consequences and the chaos that’s going to be created throughout the health care system.”

Democrats announced earlier on Monday that they would use chamber rules to control the floor late into the night, highlighting what they viewed as positive aspects of President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement, and the chaos that could ensue if it is repealed. 

Senators have been mulling their approach over the last week, according to a Senate aide. In recent caucus lunches, they discussed using a combination of floor speeches, and traditional and social media to speak out against repealing the health care law. 

[Senate Democrats Plan Late-Night Obamacare Speeches]

On Monday, Democrats prepared for a long night, even taking the unusual step of requesting cots for the sleep-deprived. The Senate sergeant-at-arms stores 100 cots (one for each senator), though a source with the office said the beds have not been requested or used much in recent years.

Some Republicans dismissed the Democrats’ efforts, noting that it coincided with the college football national championship.

“I guess this is kind of part of their grieving process, still coming off the election and looking for any opportunity to protest,” said Senate GOP Conference Chairman John Thune.

“It is what it is,” the South Dakota Republican added. “People tonight are going to be watching the national championship game, not listening to their speeches.”

[House and Senate Preview: Obamacare Repeal Set Up and Trump Cabinet Hearings]

Democrats maintain that Americans are listening.

“The Republicans were making irresponsible statements before, but now, people are taking them seriously,” Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin said.

In addition to floor speeches, Democrats utilized social media to share their efforts with the public. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer turned his newly acquired leadership office into a TV studio to air the party’s message on Facebook Live. Democratic senators and supporters came in and out of the office just off the Senate floor to make appearances on the Facebook feed during the first votes on the budget resolution Monday evening.

Democrats also launched a Snapchat account Monday evening, with its first video showing a group of medical students saying, “As America’s future doctors, we want to make sure you’re covered!”

[Kaiser Poll Shows Split on Health Law Repeal but Consensus on Costs]

Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Democrats’ outreach chairman, kicked off the Facebook video with a call to action.

“The way we’re going to win this fight is when millions of people become engaged,” he said. “It can’t just happen here on Capitol Hill. We need all of you involved.”

Sanders’ political operation is organizing a rally Sunday in Warren, Michigan, to protest the GOP efforts to repeal the health care law. Sanders will be joined by Schumer and Michigan Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters at the rally.

“We have over two million people in Michigan alone that are now getting covered because of the Affordable Care Act, and so this is all about activating people to get engaged and involved because there’s a lot here at stake, including for people with insurance, by the way,” Stabenow said. “This really is an issue that covers everybody.”

It’s one of a series of Sunday rallies that are part of the Sanders-led Democratic Caucus effort across the country. Other senators participating include New Jersey’s Cory Booker and Robert Menendez in Newark, and Oregon’s Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden in Portland.

Sen. Tim Kaine is expected to join Gov. Terry McAuliffe in headlining an event outside the Virginia state Capitol in Richmond. Durbin will be in Chicago.

Sanders has been previewing a message that puts pressure on Republicans on Capitol Hill.

“If Mr. Trump allows the Republican Party to go ahead with its plans, it will dismantle the health care system and jeopardize the economic security of millions of Americans,” Sanders said. “Our message to the Republicans is simple and straightforward. You are not going to get away with it. You are not going to punish the elderly, disabled veterans, the children, the sick and the poor while you reward your billionaire friends.”

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