U.S. Capitol Police on Monday arrested 80 people who crowded into Senate and House hallways and offices to protest the Republican Senate healthcare bill.
Demonstrators from across the country descended on more than a dozen members' offices as part of an organized protest, using the call-and-response "mic check" to share their personal stories, including their own pre-existing health conditions they fear will be at risk if the partial Obamacare repeal effort is successful. Some carried signs that read "Trumpcare = death" and "Love it, improve it, Medicare for all."
The sounds of their chants, including "Hey hey, ho ho, Trumpcare has got to go" and "Kill the bill, don't kill me" filled the office buildings and echoed down the hallways as tourists and staffers, many ushered by Capitol police, hurried by the protesters.
Capitol Police said they responded to 13 different locations in the House and Senate office buildings, arresting a total of 32 men and 48 women for crowding and obstructing foot traffic. The protest was organized by the Center for Popular Democracy; a spokeswoman for the group said they have "been training small groups of people over the past few months in the tactic of bird-dogging."
Becky Odlh, a 60-year-old Knoxville, Tenn., woman in a wheelchair, said she was attending the protest "to support efforts to kill this bill. Healthcare is an important issue for everybody, everybody in America should be up here fighting this bill."
Sal Amidor, from Tuscon, Ariz., said he came to speak for his children, father and "the people that are not able to be here."
"I'm here because comprehensive healthcare is a human right, because if we consider ourselves a first-world nation than we have an obligation to protect our people, and I assume that we do, that's why we're here," Amidor said. "This isn't a protest, that's the common ideology that we're protesting, we are here to make some noise and attention but we are here to protect the people, to protect Arizona, to protect even the United States. Poor people, migrants, indigenous people, women, children, elders, everyone."
One of the offices protesters sat and chanted outside was that of Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who has not committed one way or another to the Republican bill. In a statement, Flake said he wanted to "thank everyone for coming out and sharing their stories" and would "keep those comments in mind" as he considers the bill.
Protesters who refused to clear hallways and offices after multiple warnings by U.S. Capitol Police were put into zip tie handcuffs and removed, sometimes being dragged away.
At the office of Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, staff offered water and Goldfish crackers to the protesters who chanted that "Trumpcare is like Trump University except you die" and threatened to "throw [Portman] on the unemployment line" if he votes for the bill.
"Rob welcomes input from all 11.5 million Ohioans who visit or call our offices," Portman's office said in a statement. "We even provide water and snacks!"
Other protesters recited in Portman's office: "I want to live. It's as simple as this. If you cut Medicaid, you cut my damn life."
Karen Greenlaw of Maine and Judith Lerma of San Antonio, Texas, said they were with National Nurses United, the largest registered nurses union in the United States, and called the Senate healthcare bill bad for their patients.
"We feel that healthcare is a right of everybody — equal healthcare," Greenlaw said. "As a nurse I am tired of seeing patients who have to struggle to pay for their medications, to pay for their hospitalizations … I don't think people should have to struggle with that."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., revealed the Senate's version of the healthcare bill at the end of last month, but has been unable to secure the requisite number of votes from within the Republican Party to ensure its passage. With its slim 52-48 majority, the GOP can only afford to lose two votes, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie.
"It's a death sentence for our patients," Lerma said. "It absolutely is a moral abomination. It's horrible, it's going to kill people."
House Republicans passed their own version, the American Health Care Act, in May, led by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Votes for final passage will come after both versions are reconciled.
Protesters gathered outside Ryan's Wisconsin chanting, "Paul Ryan don't you dare take away our Medicare." Some were taken away in zip ties by Capitol Police after they refused to leave.
All eyes remain on what the Senate will attempt before the August recess begins. President Trump tweeted earlier Monday that he could not imagine Congress would leave Washington without "a beautiful new HealthCare bill fully approved and ready to go!"
I cannot imagine that Congress would dare to leave Washington without a beautiful new HealthCare bill fully approved and ready to go!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 10, 2017