Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) on Monday on Capitol Hill. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
Opinion writer

Maybe the Senate janitor’s closet was already booked?

For Monday’s hearing on the Cassidy-Graham bill to repeal Obamacare — the one and only hearing scheduled on the measure — Republicans trying to hurry it through Congress gave every sign that they did not want to be noticed.

Senate hearing rooms that could have fit hundreds were left idle Monday afternoon, and instead Republicans chose one that could fit just 30 members of the public, leaving hundreds waiting in the hall outside. Many reporters, too, were turned away — the better to avoid scrutiny.

Or so they thought. But the attempt at concealment backfired.

The moment Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) hammered the gavel, about 20 disabilities rights activists in the room — the bulk of the public gallery — broke into a chant: “No cuts to Medicaid! Save our liberty!”

Protesters filled Senate hallways on Sept. 25, as the only public hearing for the Cassidy-Graham health-care bill got underway. Activists chanted "shame," at the bill's sponsors, and some were arrested for acts of civil disobedience. (Jenny Starrs,Jordan Frasier/The Washington Post)

Hatch hammered the gavel, ineffectually. After 10 minutes, he called a recess. Capitol Police cuffed the activists, several in wheelchairs, and carried or wheeled them from the room.

Hatch returned after seven minutes and started scolding: “If you can’t be in order then get the heck out! . . . Shut that door and keep it shut!”

Who he was yelling at wasn’t clear, because after the mayhem the cops had allowed only five spectators to remain in the room — and three of them looked like lobbyists.

That’s right: Five members of the public allowed to witness the lone hearing for a plan that would cut more than a trillion dollars from health care, deny health insurance to millions and dump the whole health-care mess on ill-equipped states.

“I’m so sorry about this process,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), the Cassidy in Cassidy-Graham, testified to the panel.

He should be. It’s a sorry process.

Republicans complained about Democrats enacting sweeping health-care legislation without GOP votes; now they’re attempting to pass, with only GOP votes, legislation that would shift funds from blue states to red states.

They complained that they didn’t have time to read Obamacare before it was passed; the Cassidy-Graham bill was still being rewritten Monday with a vote required by the end of the week — because Republicans are using the same budget process they blasted Democrats for using with Obamacare.

They complained (falsely) that Democrats didn’t wait for the Congressional Budget Office to say how much the bill would cost; they’re now proceeding without such an analysis.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the Judiciary Committee chairman, essentially acknowledged that what’s in the bill doesn’t matter. “I could maybe give you 10 reasons why this bill shouldn’t be considered,” he said last week. “But Republicans campaigned on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign. That’s pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill.”

Now this sorry process is heading to a sorry end.

Obamacare repeal failed in the Senate. Then “skinny repeal” failed. And now, “last-ditch” Cassidy-Graham is foundering. Trump acknowledged as much when he tweeted Sunday: “Eventually we’ll win, whether it’s now or later.”

A sure sign of trouble — ever more extravagant vote-buying.

Republicans howled about the goodies handed out to reluctant senators to win their votes for Obamacare — the Cornhusker Kickback and the Louisiana Purchase. Back in the spring, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the Graham in Cassidy-Graham, warned, “if they start doing that crap, they’re going to lose me.”

Now he’s doing it. He added cash for states such as Alaska and Maine — some Polar Payola and a Caribou Cashout for a wavering Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and a Bangor Bribe as a Down East Inducement for a skeptical Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). But he risks losing them with the Cowboy Compensation he added to buy Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) — making it easier for insurers to avoid covering maternity care, older people and people with preexisting conditions. He even offered a Creole Kickback to his co-author Cassidy, a provision boosting states such as Louisiana that were late to expand Medicaid.

On Monday afternoon, Republicans reaped the chaos they sowed. Even after the protesters were removed from the room, the chants of hundreds of protesters in the hall could still be heard in the committee room: “Fight!” “Shame!” As cops strapped demonstrators to chairs and pushed them to elevators, protesters (181 of whom were arrested) screamed: “Kill the bill! Don’t kill us!”

In the hearing room, Democratic senators were only slightly milder: “A disgrace!” said Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.). Sen. Mark Warner (Va.) saw a “travesty.” And Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.) proclaimed that “nobody is going to buy a lemon just because it’s the last car on the lot.”

Wyden was so tough on co-author Cassidy that Hatch interrupted to ask for “respect” for Cassidy. “This is not easy for him,” the chairman said.

Selling this turkey? You bet it isn’t easy.

Twitter: @Milbank

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