Right set to fight back on town hall protests

For the past three weeks, Democratic protesters have swarmed Republican town hall events across the country, booing, shouting down and trying to embarrass GOP lawmakers seeking to gut ObamaCare.

In the coming weeks, grassroots conservatives will be fighting back.

FreedomWorks, the Tea Party-aligned outside group, beginning next month will be organizing rallies and urging its nearly 6 million activists to turn out at town hall events to ensure members of Congress are also getting an earful from ObamaCare detractors.

{mosads}“There will be more grassroots hand-to-hand combat than we’ve seen in Washington for a long time,” FreedomWorks President and CEO Adam Brandon said Monday during an interview in his office near the Capitol.

“The conservative [lawmakers], they need to see us out there pushing. And if they see that, they’ll be bold,” he continued. “If they don’t see grassroots there on the ground, they’ll start slipping.”

FreedomWorks will stage an ObamaCare repeal rally on Capitol Hill on March 15 with speeches from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and other top conservative allies.

From there, activists will descend upon congressional offices to press lawmakers to move quickly on ObamaCare. FreedomWorks officials are rallying behind a longshot replacement bill authored by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would eliminate many central elements of President Obama’s healthcare law, including the mandate that every American has coverage.

The so-called “Day of Action” will be followed by a phone-call campaign to lawmakers’ offices, plus rallies in targeted congressional districts across the country.

The reason FreedomWorks is waiting until mid-March to ramp up its grassroots engagement on ObamaCare is that by then, Brandon said, GOP leaders will have a better idea of which path they are taking on replacement.

“To do the things that we want to do, we need to make sure we have something that we’re pushing for,” Brandon said. “I just don’t want to be reacting to the left [and say], ‘They have a bunch of people showing up, so we need to have a bunch of people showing up.’

“We’re going to try to do this on our own timetable.”

Democrats have been showing up in droves to GOP town hall events since President Donald Trump took office, generating several heated exchanges with lawmakers that have gone viral on cable news channels and social media.

Conservative grassroots leaders may not like Democrats’ message, but they’re willing to give them points for style. The tactics are straight from conservatives’ 2009 playbook, when Tea Party activists staged mass demonstrations in Washington and showed up at Democratic town hall events to protest legislation that would come to be known as the Affordable Care Act.

Now the tables are turned. Last week, a man who described himself as “overweight” told interim House Budget Chair Diane Black (R-Tenn.) that he might die if Republicans take away his health coverage.

Earlier, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) had to be escorted from an event by several police officers while anti-Trump protesters chased and jeered at him.

And for the second weekend in a row, Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) was greeted with shouting and boos at another one of his “listening sessions” on healthcare. The difference this time was he had backup: Local Republicans had sent out emails encouraging their members to turn out and voice support for repeal, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

But the Republican activists may have only fired up the Florida congressman’s critics even more.

When one Pasco County GOP official, Bill Akins, falsely asserted that ObamaCare included a provision for “death panels,” the 300-plus crowd erupted.

“You lie! You’re lying!” people shouted back, according to the Times.

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), who’s been targeted by pro-ObamaCare protesters and has a key role in the party’s healthcare efforts, said Monday such scenes playing out across the country ultimately would not deter the GOP from repealing and replacing.

“I think it’s healthy to have these discussions. I know at the town hall I held, we had some people who feel strongly for ObamaCare and all those high prices and premiums,” Brady told reporters. “I stayed late to make sure we could visit with as many as we could and so I think all this input is healthy.”

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which will soon begin marking up repeal legislation, said it’s welcome news that GOP lawmakers will soon be getting reinforcements back home in their districts.

“Members need two things from activists: one, to be held to account, and two, to have their backs,” Cramer said.

FreedomWorks has already flexed its muscle as Trump has worked to get his Cabinet members seated. When Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) began waffling on whether he’d back Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), Trump’s pick for budget director, FreedomWorks officials said they organized 45,000 calls and messages to McCain’s office within a 24-hour period.

They’re hoping to replicate that energy and enthusiasm in the ObamaCare fight.

“A politician is probably going to go with who they fear the most. If they see that their town halls are completely filled and all they’re hearing back in their district is, ‘Don’t do something,’ they might find a way not to do it,” Brandon explained.

“That’s why [our] job is to make sure they are hearing a consistent message from our guys in their district, that this is what’s important to us.”

Peter Sullivan contributed.

Tags Diane Black Donald Trump John McCain Kevin Brady Rand Paul Ted Cruz
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