A Republican congressman from Colorado has gotten a taste of what the backlash to repealing the Affordable Care Act may be like. Representative Mike Coffman, who co-wrote an op-ed in the Denver Post championing the full repeal of Obamacare on Friday, was overwhelmed by constituents at his own constituent-event in the town of Aurora on Saturday, so much so that he ultimately opted to sneak out of the event early rather than face the as many as 100 disgruntled people still waiting to speak with him. Many of the constituents had come to the meeting to voice their concerns to Coffman over the likely repeal of the ACA. Because the congressman and his staff opted to meet with people in small groups, rather than all at once, scores were stuck waiting in the lobby of the Aurora Public Library, where Coffman’s office had reserved a room for the meeting.
According to local media reports, Coffman met constituents in groups of only four people, instead of everyone all at once using a town-hall-style meeting. His chief of staff later insisted that was by design, as the congressman has typically used the regularly scheduled meetings to meet individually with constituents. But whatever number of constituents Coffman was expecting, a lot more — as many as 200 people — showed up to meet with him in the community room his staff had reserved. While Coffman’s staff say they met with 70 people before running out of time, many more seem to have been stranded in the library lobby, where they chanted and sang as they waited — cell-phone cameras running — and some gave interviews to a crew from 9NEWS Denver, who reported on the event. The resulting news segment is unlikely to make Coffman’s highlight reel, particularly because they recorded him leaving the event, six minutes before its scheduled end, rushing to a running car through a side door, which local police had apparently blocked off with crime-scene tape. It was not a profile in political courage by any measure:
Coffman’s staff says they only booked the room at the library for a typically-sufficient 90 minutes, and were frustrated they didn’t have more time to meet with everyone. They invited those constituents who went unheard to attend future meetings, which Coffman’s staff will book extra time for. Many constituents were nonetheless angry that the congressman didn’t speak with everyone together once he realized how many people had come to the event.
At the heart of the scathing 9NEWS segment, which you can watch in full here, was an emotional interview with a woman named Berthie Ruoff. Ruoff, who was unable to meet with Coffman, said she had come to express her fears that she would lose her insurance once Obamacare was repealed, noting that she had a preexisting condition, being a breast-cancer survivor, and that her spouse who had health insurance had passed away. “What’s going to happen to me?” she asks in the interview. “What am I supposed to do?”
Republicans in the House and Senate have already begun moving to repeal the ACA, but while Trump and GOP lawmakers have insisted they will also replace the law, they don’t seem to have actually figured out, or at least agreed, what to replace Obamacare with.
Coffman represents an emerging swing district in Colorado, and he ran an ad in August vowing to “stand up” to Donald Trump should Trump be elected, then remarked after the election that “I am excited about the next two years and look forward to working with the president.”
Though Coffman’s run-in with constituents on Saturday was only one small event in one congressional district, and it’s not clear if similar popular backlash will strike other proponents of Obamacare’s repeal, it’s important to recall that the backlash to Obamacare originally took shape, and eventually became the Tea Party movement, when conservatives overwhelmed Democratic lawmakers at constituent town halls in 2009. That political wave helped deliver the House back into the hands of Republicans in 2010 and paved the way to the populist political movement that made Donald Trump a presidential nominee. It’s not at all clear if progressive organizers will be able to duplicate that scale of success, should they want to and try to, but if President-elect Trump and the GOP repeal the ACA without an adequate replacement, or muck up an attempt at entitlement or tax reform, it might provide a populist spark for Democrats and their allies.