MIDLOTHIAN, Va. — Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) knew exactly what he was about to walk into at a town hall meeting with his constituents on Tuesday night, just a couple of days after House Republicans passed the American Health Care Act by the slimmest of margins.
Of the 217 GOP congressmen who voted for the legislation that would reshape the current U.S. health care system if it ultimately lands on President Donald Trump’s desk, only Brat and 13 of his colleagues are facing constituents in open forums in their districts during this week’s recess.
“It’s very clear there’s a disproportionate number of Democrats in the room,” Brat said after taking the stage at the Clover Hill Assembly of God.
Raising his voice over the rowdy audience, he caught himself: “And that’s good. You’re all my constituents, and I want to represent all of you.”Leo Lutz/Independent Journal Review Leo Lutz/Independent Journal Review
Long before the start time of Brat’s event, protesters gathered across the street to demonstrate against the health care legislation.Leo Lutz/Independent Journal Review Leo Lutz/Independent Journal Review
Audience members complained that the legislation would weaken protections for pre-existing conditions.
“My husband has a pre-existing condition,” one attendee told Independent Journal Review. “I don’t want him to lose coverage or to have his premiums spiked up.”
After a long battle with the Republican leadership about that very concern, Brat and a group of other staunch conservatives decided to support the bill because of an agreement reached to grant states the ability to waive, among other regulations, the Act’s community ratings mandate, which prohibited insurers from charging individuals with pre-existing conditions higher prices for coverage.
Brat argues that states probably won’t choose to waive the Affordable Care Act’s consumer protections anyway. And even if they do, so the argument goes, individuals will be protected by the new plan’s high-risk pools. Critics say there’s not enough funding for those pools to function as intended.
That argument fell flat in Midlothian Tuesday.
Brat started his remarks by walking through the policy of the bill, even holding up a copy of the legislation to show the audience. He told the crowd he wanted to eliminate their misconceptions before answering questions, but his attempt to assuage their concerns was unsuccessful.
Members of the audience constantly interjected throughout his speech, some chanting, “Shame on you!” at the lawmaker. Some raised their objections to Brat’s argument that individuals with pre-existing conditions will not be affected by the new legislation by booing him vociferously. Others shouted questions about Medicaid, which will suffer extensive funding cuts under the GOP plan.
Protesters, seemingly more motivated after the event than they had been before it, gathered once again when the town hall ended to continue denouncing Brat’s support for the health care bill.
Brat’s aides staffing the event, as well as law enforcement officials, repeatedly warned the audience to pipe down so attendees could listen to the congressman’s commentary. Virginia State Senator Amanda Chase, who co-hosted the event with Brat, even threatened some of the loudest attendees with ejection by security staff should they not comply.
The audience was far from united, though. Tensions were high between Republicans and Democrats in the crowd. At points, some people engaged in lengthy, curse-laden shouting matches across the room, their middle fingers flying through the air.
“Sit down, shut up!” one man repeatedly chanted at the protesters, before his wife quieted him.
Brat’s experience could be a telltale sign for Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), who plans to hold his own town hall meeting in the Willingboro area of his district later this week.
MacArthur already endured intense criticism from his colleagues for writing the amendment that triggered a compromise between the moderate and conservative factions of the House Republican conference. That success ultimately steered the bill to passage, but some members think it puts their seats in jeopardy of a takeover by Democrats in next year’s midterm elections.
And in a sign that GOP lawmakers have to worry about more than just health care, Brat’s constituents needled him on the news that had just broken — that President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.
One constituent asked if he will advocate for the appointment of a special prosecutor for the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. But he implored the audience to show him enough evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence officials to warrant one.
“That’s your job!” a constituent shouted at him.