The liberal activists roused into the streets by President Donald Trump are revving up for one last campaign to save Obamacare.
The sudden resurgence of Republicans’ repeal push appeared to catch Democrats and their base by surprise. But ahead of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plans to vote next week on a new bill to dismantle the health law, the Democratic grass roots is on what one leading activist called “full war footing.”
From a new six-figure advertising campaign by the pro-Obamacare group Save My Care to a flurry of rallies planned on the ground, the left is throwing everything it can at the new repeal bill from Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
“The reality is that the progressive coalition has never been more unified or determined than they are right now,” Organizing for Action spokesman Jesse Lehrich said in an interview.
The liberal group UltraViolet Action will launch an aerial banner campaign on Thursday targeting Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), who brought down the most recent GOP repeal plan.
Save My Care’s TV and digital ad buys are also up and running to urge McCain, Murkowski and Collins to vote no, as well as Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). OFA has its own digital ad push starting Thursday in key 15 states.
Liberal organizers say that their members are bombarding swing-vote Republicans with nearly as many health care calls as they made in July, at the peak of the last Obamacare battle.
“We definitely feel better today than we felt yesterday, but not because we feel like we’ve won, not at all,” said Angel Padilla, policy director at the anti-Trump group Indivisible. “This is going to go down to the wire.”
After the stunning defeat of the GOP’s previous repeal effort earlier this summer, some on the left moved ahead to take up battles over immigration and Trump’s tax plan, or lay the groundwork for single-payer health care.
Padilla said Indivisible had planned to stage an event during this week’s short recess on helping undocumented immigrant Dreamers but is instead reorienting its grassroots machine to talk health care.
Ben Wikler, Washington director of MoveOn.org, also vowed that activists would return to Capitol Hill for daily events next week as McConnell squeezes his members who are on the fence to support the bill, which would transform Obamacare funding into block grants for states, make deep cuts to Medicaid and undermine protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
The prospect of another repeal vote “hadn’t even raised its ugly head” last week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters Tuesday. “But now, the groups are really mobilized.”
Schumer, who predicted a “huge mobilization” of pushback against repeal this weekend, has spent the past several days talking frequently with progressive groups to coordinate activity in the days ahead of next week’s vote, a senior Democratic aide said.
As Democrats digest just how close they are to losing a health care fight that has united them to an unprecedented degree, what had been a simmering internal debate over tactics can wait for another day.
“There’s nothing like an existential threat to the entire American health care system to dissolve any would-be tensions,” said Lehrich. “We’re all fighting tooth-and-nail, hand-in-hand, to stymie this would-be catastrophe.”
While Senate Democrats are weighing a procedural onslaught on the floor next week to try to push Republicans past their Sept. 30 deadline to pass repeal with 50 votes, activists believe they have to stop the bill before that because McConnell could blow through any stalling tactics.
“The painful fact is that if McConnell has the votes and decides he wants to do this, there are no procedural levers to pull to stop it,” Wikler said. “The only way this attack on millions of people’s health care is defeated is through massive constituent pressure coming from the states.”
Although the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said it cannot provide a comprehensive analysis of the legislation by next week, other projections show the new GOP plan would result in large-scale losses of health insurance by axing Obamacare’s individual mandate and ending the requirement that insurers cover individuals with pre-existing conditions.
Cassidy countered on Wednesday that “the best way to get people covered is not through a mandate, through penalties, but through getting a governor engaged.”
“Our bill gives the governor responsibility, which he or she may not want, but that’s the best way to get people covered,” Cassidy told CNN.
But in addition to on-the-ground fury from the liberal base and opposition from much of the medical industry, Democrats are banking on resistance from some governors — including Cassidy’s own — to help make the difference and defeat the bill.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also said Wednesday that she thinks vulnerable House Republicans from populous blue states would help defeat the repeal bill if the Senate passes it, given that their states stand to lose big.
California and New York would lose nearly $50 billion in federal health care funding over the next decade — dollars that would be redistributed to conservative states — according to an analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank.
The House passed its Obamacare repeal bill earlier this summer with only one vote to spare, with several California Republicans in districts Clinton won and moderates from other parts of the country backing the measure.
Pelosi said she wouldn’t expect that to happen this time around.
“I think we have a really good chance to stop it in the House because it does such serious violence to the health care of people in California, New York and other places,” Pelosi told reporters.
House Democrats are planning a “day of action” Saturday with rallies across the country in protest of the GOP effort, but otherwise can do little to stop the legislation if Republicans round up the votes.
“This is really a stinkeroo, this bill,” she said. “I don’t think most Republicans have the faintest idea what’s in that bill. And if they do, how could they possible do that to the people of their states?”
Pelosi also dismissed criticism from some on the left, now growing quieter as the Obamacare fight resumes, that the fiscal deal Democratic leaders cut with Trump earlier this month helped revive the Republican repeal push by effectively clearing the calendar for the rest of this month.
“They’re not even related,” she said. “It isn’t that at all.”
Heather Caygle contributed to this report.
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