When the House of Representatives passed its version of the American Health Care Act in May, some House Democrats began to taunt their colleagues with “Na-na na-na, na-na na-na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye!” sarcastically thinking they’d be bidding Republicans adieu in 2018.
But no one is singing a mocking tune now.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to get the AHCA, also known as Trumpcare, passed before the July 4 recess, and Senate Democrats finally seem to be feeling the urgency of progressive groups and activists, who have been issuing dire warnings for weeks. Many Republican senators have said they haven’t seen a text of the bill, though the vote is expected by next week, and there is a distinct possibility the bill could pass without any public hearings or debate.
“Last week, the Senate was operating normally,” Ben Wikler, MoveOn.org’s Washington director, told The Daily Beast in a phone call Tuesday. “MoveOn and a host of other progressive groups started sounding the alarm and urging Democrats to use the limited tools to gum up the works. To alert the public that Republicans are on the verge of ripping health care away from millions of people. This week has been a sea change.”
Wikler told The Daily Beast that the organization has been texting every member of MoveOn in states where Republican senators may vote against the AHCA, urging them to make their voices heard. Additionally, they’re recruiting for more than 100 local demonstrations and protests in these states in the coming days before a vote is set to be called, including a rally on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning featuring Democratic senators, patients, and families who would be affected by the legislation.
The Republican senators whom MoveOn specifically said they were targeting included Dean Heller in Nevada, Susan Collins in Maine, Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, Shelly Moore Capito in West Virginia, Rob Portman in Ohio, and Jeff Flake in Arizona.
“You know the word is a lot of them are not ready to commit to vote for this bill,” Wikler said.
Indivisible, an anti-Trump organization created by former congressional staffers, has also joined the anti-AHCA fight, launching an online effort this week called “Our Amendments.”
The process involves users submitting information for an amendment, relying on the Republican process of reconciliation, which they are using to get AHCA passed. It means that they only require 50 votes to pass the legislation. However, as Indivisible points out, they have to allow an unlimited number of amendments in this process. So the goal of the group’s project is to have senators file as many amendments as they want, based on the submissions, and call them up for a vote on the Senate floor. Indivisible wants to see this process go on until Republicans agree to hold public hearings on the AHCA, which they have yet to do.
“This can delay that vote,” Indivisible’s policy director, Angel Padilla, said in an interview with The Daily Beast. “We totally recognized that Mitch McConnell can totally change the rules again and get around this.” But as Padilla put it, “This is another way of dramatizing that this has been all in secret.”
Senate Democrats seemed finally to heed the call of activist organizations this week and began similarly to dramatize the issue, which has gone somewhat unnoticed in major national newspapers amid the constant drama at the White House.
On Monday night, Senate Democrats took to the floor to hold a series of impassioned speeches protesting the legislation. And on Tuesday, Sens. Cory Booker, Brian Schatz, and Chris Murphy livestreamed a trip to the Congressional Budget Office to request a copy of the bill. They were not successful.
But while these efforts have, at the very least, drawn attention back to the health-care debate, some activist organizations are concerned that the momentum may falter.
“That’s not good enough,” Murshed Zaheed, political director of CREDO, a social-change network with some 5 million members, told The Daily Beast. “A one-night stand is not going to cut it when you have the lives of 20 million Americans at stake.”
Zaheed told The Daily Beast that CREDO had made more than 30,000 calls to Congress over the last few weeks and more than 2,000 on Tuesday alone. They are not only calling D.C. offices for moderate Republicans they hope will vote no on the AHCA, but also their local state offices.
“We are targeting these Republican senators with a special call tool,” Zaheed said. “The way we are setting it up is they are rolling dials. If they get the office of [Jeff] Flake in D.C. but if for some reason that line is busy, it turns them to another office.”
“The staffers of these offices are feeling the heat,” he added.
McConnell said on Tuesday that Republicans would see a “discussion draft” of the legislation Thursday and that it will move to the floor next week following a CBO analysis.
The speed and secrecy with which the process is moving has forced activist groups to devise plans for the next two weeks to keep momentum going.
Padilla provided The Daily Beast with a list of at least 35 events taking place nationwide this week and into next week, including sit-ins at state congressional offices.
“It’s clear that we’re in an emergency situation,” he said.
And there’s simply no time for any of these organizations to let up in the coming days.
“Full red alert mode,” Wikler said.
They just hope Democrats on the Hill and the media can keep up.