On Tuesday, for the second time, Democrats and progressive activists watched a partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act rise from the dead. For the umpteenth time, Democrats and activists fanned across Capitol Hill, trying — failing, for now — to make the vote excruciating for Republicans.
And for the umpteenth time, they argued in public about what to do next.
The Democrats’ day began with dueling rallies that got sparse media attention. House Democrats held a news conference promoting the “Better Deal” agenda that had been released on Monday; a coalition of progressive groups held their own event on the lawn just north of the House. A press stand set up for cameras stayed empty as Nina Turner, the new president of Our Revolution, emceed a formal introduction of the progressive “People’s Platform.”
“We know what you did last summer, but you have the opportunity to do something in the summer of 2017,” said Turner, in what seemed to be a veiled reference to the 2016 presidential primary and her relatively lonely endorsement of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
The People’s Platform, unlike the Better Deal, was tied to specific legislation — bills that progressives had introduced, but did not expect to bring to a vote in a Republican Congress. A wide-ranging agenda, from universal health-care coverage to automatic voter registration, got a point-by-point sales pitch from members of the House Progressive Caucus.
“They are ideas that have been tested in every other developed country, so why don’t they work here?” asked Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).
When the rally was over, Turner led the hardiest protesters a few blocks away to the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. “You don’t treat people [like this] who have come to the People’s Platform — who are not violent, who are regular citizens,” Turner said through a bullhorn. “When we say Medicare for all, that’s what we mean.”
Republicans sent around the clips of Turner et al protesting the DNC, encouraging the party infighting. But in the afternoon, when the vote to proceed to an ACA repeal debate became inevitable, Democrats once again embraced protests.
After the vote, and after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) gave a blistering speech about the process, most Senate Democrats headed down the stairs of the Capitol, where TV cameras were waiting for them. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) saw a crowd of a hundred-odd protesters that had gathered across the plaza. They started out to meet them — and were stopped by Vice President Pence’s motorcade, rolling out.
“Get the sergeant of arms out here,” Schumer said to a staffer. “The vice president’s gone. We want them to come up here.”
While staffers negotiated the details of how close protesters could get, Schumer and the Democrats walked into the “Senate swamp” and started talking to protesters. There was no amplification; protesters reached over each other for photos, cheering for Democrats they recognized.
“We are going to fight and fight and fight until this bill is dead!” said Schumer.
The crowd cheered. Schumer started to say that if the bill was stopped, Democrats would work with Republicans to “improve” the ACA.
“Single-payer now!” shouted some of the protesters. “Single-payer!”
The Democrats gave a series of short speeches, amplified or interrupted by some of the people who had been sitting in at Senate offices or waving signs outside the Hill.
“We don’t know how they’re going to do it,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said about the upcoming amendment votes.
“They don’t know how they’re going to do it!” yelled a protester.
After 15 minutes, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) led Democrats back to the steps. They spoke through a bullhorn, urging activists to keep pressure on their Republican colleagues.
“How about we fill the streets outside every Republican office in America?” asked Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
For the next several hours, Democrats maintained a live stream of activists and senators talking from the Capitol steps. More protests were planned for the rest of the week, with the coalition that had spent the morning arguing spending the next days encouraging people to wage sit-ins at Senate offices.