House Republicans are bracing themselves for encounters with angry constituents when they return to their districts this weekend after casting votes on legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare.
Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), the centrist who negotiated the amendment that helped bring the House GOP’s healthcare bill over the finish line, expects his town hall next Wednesday could get rowdy.
MacArthur noted the event is being held in Willingboro, N.J., where he only won 10 percent of the vote in the last election.
“This is a not a town that’s going to perhaps be thrilled with this. But I will meet my constituents and talk to them and tell them why and help them understand that what they hear in the media and what fearmongerers are trying to whip up is simply not the truth,” MacArthur said just off the House floor after Thursday’s 217-213 vote on the healthcare bill.
MacArthur has risen in prominence since crafting an amendment to the healthcare legislation with conservative House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) that would allow states to apply for waivers from key ObamaCare provisions.
The amendment to the bill gives states the chance to be exempted from rules that prevent insurance companies from charging sick people higher premiums and that mandate the services health plans must cover. To win a waiver, a state would have to meet certain conditions, including offering high-risk pools of insurance coverage for the sick.
The change has heightened the controversy surrounding the bill, with late-night host Jimmy Kimmel making waves nationally with an emotional late-night monologue about pre-existing conditions where he talked of his son’s congenital heart disease.
GOP lawmakers facing the public are arming themselves with one primary message: they had to do something besides keep the status quo of ObamaCare.
“This bill isn’t perfect. It doesn’t include every single component I wanted. But it came down to the [GOP bill] or the continued disaster of ObamaCare, which was an easy choice,” House GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) wrote in a Washington Post op-ed published Friday.
Republicans have pointed to the announcement this week that Medica, the last insurance carrier for most of Iowa, will likely stop selling individual health policies in the state due to market instability, as evidence the health system needs fixing. Aetna is also pulling out of Virginia’s individual insurance market due to expected financial losses.
“This is the truth of ObamaCare self-destructing before us,” Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) said.
MacArthur is among the few Republicans planning to talk with constituents in a town hall setting during the 11-day House recess that lasts through May 15.
As of Friday, only about a dozen Republicans had announced in-person town hall meetings over the recess, according to a list compiled by the Town Hall Project.
So far, all are Republicans who voted for the legislation but mostly represent safely red districts, like Reps. Dave Brat (Va.), Thomas Garrett (Va.), Raul Labrador (Idaho), Chris Stewart (Utah) and James Comer (Ky.).
Labrador’s first town hall of the recess on Friday in a deep-red district quickly turned raucous.
Attendees shouted “liar!” at him as he discussed health care, according toan Idaho Public Radio reporter.
Reps. Rod Blum (Iowa), Don Bacon (Neb.) and MacArthur are the only Republicans to schedule town halls so far who are on the House Democratic campaign arm’s target list for the 2018 elections.
Most of the vulnerable Republicans who voted for the healthcare bill on Thursday haven’t announced plans for town hall meetings.
Rep. David Young (R-Iowa), for instance, has held 17 town meetings in his district this year. But his office declined to say if he would host any during the recess.
And House Republicans who backed the bill and hail from districts that were won by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, including Reps. Darrell Issa (Calif.), Jeff Denham (Calif.) and Martha McSally (Ariz.), have not announced plans for district town meetings in the coming days, either.
That’s not stopping progressive groups from staging protests to make their anger clear over Thursday’s vote.
Democrats in Rep. Pete King’s (R-N.Y.) Long Island district are holding a “Women’s Town Hall” to “discuss the major concerns that women in his district have about the policies of the current administration and what actions the congressman plans to take,” according to the group’s Facebook page.
And constituents in Rep. Mimi Walters’s (R-Calif.) district, which went for Clinton, created a Facebook group to pressure her to hold an open forum and invited her to a town hall on Tuesday.
A coalition of progressive groups — Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Organizing for Action, MoveOn.org, and Center for American Progress Action Fund — are coordinating more than 75 events nationwide through the weekend in response to Thursday’s vote.
“Phones will ring off the hook; district offices will be jammed full of angry constituents,” MoveOn.org Washington Director Ben Wikler said.
Despite the pushback he expects at his town hall, MacArthur is defending his role in crafting the bill regardless of what might happen in his swing district that went for both President Trump and former President Obama.
“If I looked at this through a political lens only, then you never get anything done, if that’s the only calculation,” MacArthur said.