‘Don’t repeal Obamacare — improve it’: Republicans face wrath at town-hall events

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Rose Mudd Perkins of Georgetown, directs a question loudly at U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell during an a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky
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Reuters

Republican members of Congress, away from Washington for the Presidents’ Day week, are getting an earful as constituents have come out in force to voice displeasure for some of the party’s policy positions and the nascent administration of President Donald Trump.

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa held an event Tuesday in which constituents expressed concerns about losing coverage if the healthcare law better known as Obamacare is repealed.

“I’m on Obamacare. If it wasn’t for Obamacare, we wouldn’t be able to afford insurance,” said Chris Peterson, a farmer from Grassley’s state. “With all due respect, sir, you’re the man that talked about the death panel. We’re going to create one big death panel in this country if people can’t afford insurance.”

The remark was a reference to Grassley’s claim when the law passed that a provision of the law that analyzed the economic benefit of drugs for Medicare was akin to a “death panel,” a claim that was widely debunked.

“Don’t repeal Obamacare – improve it,” the constituent added.

Trump dismissed the rash of town-hall protests in a Tuesday-evening tweet.

“The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists,” he wrote. “Sad!”

But the demonstrations continued. Later Tuesday night, Rep. David Brat of Virginia drew criticism after telling a conservative political event Saturday that since the ACA repeal has been talked about “the women are in my grill no matter where I go.”

Brat faced loud boos and cries from constituents, even though he held the meeting in a county far away from the bulk of his constituents.

According to The Washington Post, when Brat tried to insist that Obamacare had “collapsed,” he was met with yells of “No it has not.”

Signs referencing the “in my grill” comment were prevalent, as were posters referencing the Tea Party-influenced Brat’s primary defeat of former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Politico’s Kyle Cheney reported that Bratt blunted some of the blowback by taking written questions instead of allowing constituents to ask them live. This prevented back-and-forth exchanges with angry constituents.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell held a $10-a-plate lunch in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, on Tuesday and faced intense criticism from a constituent named Rose Perkins. Perkins said she was skeptical of Trump’s and McConnell’s promise to bring coal jobs back to the state and critical of other GOP policies.

“The last I heard, these coal jobs are not coming back and now these workers don’t have the insurance they need because they’re poor,” Perkins said. “They work those coal mines and they’re sick. The veterans are sick, the veterans are broken down and they’re not getting what they need. If you can answer any of that I’ll sit down and shut up like Elizabeth Warren.”

According to the Lexington Herald Leader, Perkins said her son died of a heroin overdose four years ago and that she had worked to prevent Trump from getting elected.

Other constituents also questioned the repeal of the ACA, the paper reported, with one attendee telling McConnell how coverage from the ACA helped her when she was pregnant.

Rep. Buddy Carter held a town hall on Tuesday in Savannah, Georgia, and faced similar feedback from constituents there. While Chatham County, where Savannah is located, swung for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, most of Carter’s district voted overwhelmingly for Trump.

According to The Los Angeles Times, Carter’s assertion that Obamacare was collapsing – a standard GOP talking point – was met with a shout of, “You collapsed it!” A small business owner talked about how if it weren’t for the ACA, he would have had to lay off an employee when he got surgery.

According to the Times, roughly 300 people were in attendance, while more chanted outside to be let in.

Sen. Tim Scott and Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina faced similar questions at a town-hall event in Mount Pleasant, just outside Charleston. According to The Charleston Post and Courier, signs saying “Save the ACA” were posted around the meeting, and the lawmakers faced questions about a wide range of policies coming from President Donald Trump’s administration.

The recent town halls mirror those held by other GOP politicians earlier in the month that featured impassioned defenses of the ACA and anger over the GOP plan to drastically change the healthcare law.

Rep. Diane Black of Tennessee and Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah also faced questions about their desire to repeal Obamacare.

One town-hall participant in Tennessee told Black he needed coverage from the ACA to “make sure that I don’t die.”

The strident defenses of the law come as public opinion has shifted on the ACA. Recent polls suggest that more Americans are in favor of the law than against it, favoring slight changes rather than a large overhaul. In fact, some of the polls have marked the ACA at a high point in popularity.

Most of the concerns brought up in the town halls appear to be related to the more than 23 million people who are estimated to have gained coverage from various provisions of the ACA. Constituents, along with Democratic lawmakers, have argued that any significant repeal of Obamacare could endanger the coverage for some or all of those people.

While Trump has promised to make sure everyone covered under the law does not lose coverage, most Republicans have emphasized they are targeting access to care and not a guarantee of coverage.

Despite disagreements among GOP lawmakers in the House and the Senate, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced on Thursday that the House Republican leaders would be introducing their version of a repeal-and-replacement bill when Congress reconvenes next week.