Senate Democrats are struggling against an invisible enemy — the GOP’s still-secret Obamacare repeal plan. So on Tuesday, three of them decided to take a field trip to hunt for it.
Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Brian Schatz of Hawaii headed across the Hill to the Congressional Budget Office, located in Southwest Washington about a 10-minute drive from the Capitol, in what they acknowledged would be a fruitless quest for a copy of the health care bill that Republicans expect to bring to a vote as soon as next week.
The media-savvy trio live-streamed most of their journey on Facebook in the latest gambit of the Democrats’ campaign to force the GOP’s closed-door process for repealing Obamacare into the public consciousness.
“This is a way to expose, with a little bit of humor, the absurdity of this moment in time,” Booker told reporters as the trio left the CBO empty-handed. “Right now there are literally Americans fearing what might be in this bill…and for this all to be happening in private and in secrecy is absurd.”
The three Democrats said they met with senior officials at the nonpartisan budget office but were unable to obtain a copy of any text under evaluation for its budgetary impacts. Republicans have not said whether they’ve given the CBO a copy of a full bill, but they have referred some ideas to the office for consideration.
As they arrived at the CBO, their fellow Democrats were also protesting the clandestine health care process by invoking an obscure rule that allows any senator to object to committee meetings held more than two hours after the Senate goes into session.
Republicans urged the minority to rethink its maneuvering. Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) delivered a floor speech accusing Democrats of doing little more than giving “impassioned speeches” after spurning “every entreaty, every request for them to work with us” on mending Obamacare.
Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) navigated around Tuesday’s committee-work stoppage by simply continuing a public health hearing he had scheduled, though he said it was an informal meeting and live-streamed it on Facebook.
“That’s what drives people back home absolutely crazy — this Washington shell game up here,” Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) said in a brief interview. “We need to put it aside and get this thing fixed.”
Other Republicans weren’t as riled up. “I don’t critique their behavior. Whatever they want to do is fine with me,” said Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
Democrats vowed to keep using every tactic possible to draw attention to the GOP’s avoidance so far of any public hearings on an Obamacare repeal bill that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) expects to release for public discussion on Thursday, potentially only a few days before a vote.
Booker even offered to debate President Donald Trump on the Obamacare repeal, a key promise by Republicans during the 2016 campaign, in a nod to former President Barack Obama’s 2010 televised summit with Republicans before passage of the health care legislation that came to bear his name.
“I’m at my wit’s end," declared Booker, who parried a fan’s question about his 2020 ambitions on his way out of CBO headquarters.
All three Democrats goaded Trump in stark terms during their visit, appearing to relish the prospect of a public battle with the president. Murphy predicted Trump would avoid talking with Democrats about Obamacare repeal “because he doesn’t know what’s in this bill.”
Schatz told reporters that Trump likely “wakes up in the morning, he reads a headline on MSNBC or CNN–”
“Breitbart,” quipped Booker.
“And then he changes his mind about the legislation,” Schatz continued. “There is zero chance that he’s read the House bill, and there’s zero chance that he will read the Senate bill. There is 100 percent chance he will sign those bills into law.”
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday he was unsure whether Trump had seen the Senate health care bill. "But I know that they’ve been working extremely hard, and the president has been giving his input and his ideas and feedback to them, and he’s very excited about where this thing is headed," Spicer told reporters.
Back at the Capitol, Democrats largely welcomed the maneuvers by their colleagues. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said he was disappointed that a hearing his Judiciary Committee sub-panel planned for Tuesday was scrapped by the protest but added that "I was in a very small minority."
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) saw a Tuesday hearing on a top priority of his cut short by his party’s procedural tactics, but he declared that "we just can’t make it easy for these guys to take health insurance away from 23 million people."
Democrats’ pushback against Obamacare repeal is breaking through the frenetic news cycle "to some degree," Kaine said. "It’s hard to completely break through until they reveal what they’re working on. So we’ve got to build up the momentum, so when they reveal it, people are very focused on it."