Westport — A fundamental battle between hope and fear is playing out in Washington, D.C., right now, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes says – and President Donald J. Trump has chosen fear as his political tool.
“We’re in a moment – I’m not afraid to say so, even though it may sound partisan – where our president uses fear and division,” said Himes, a Democrat who represents Connecticut’s 4th Congressional District.
About 800 people turned out for the congressman’s town hall meeting at Bedford Middle School Thursday. The near-capacity crowd gave Himes a standing ovation as he took the stage.
Though he began the night expressing hope in the fight against Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, fear worked its way to the forefront later in the evening as several successive speakers asked questions about crisis in government.
As the 90-minute town hall drifted into its final half hour, Himes addressed the subject directly.
“People who are swayed by fear are, I think, mostly decent people,” Himes said. “They’re just scared. We may not see in Fairfield County some of the emotions of fear and anxiety that the president was able to draw on in communities in Appalachia and Ohio and Michigan.”
“Communities that have been hollowed out – where Grandpa was middle class and made a living. And now I’m working for $7 an hour at the CVS, and there’s no way I’m going to educate my kid. And, damn, I want to blame somebody, and boy, it’s easy to blame – you name it. It’s easy to blame immigrants. It’s easy to blame Jews – that’s the perennial one, right?”
He ventured even farther away from concrete policy discussion as he turned to hypothetical talk of terrorist attacks and martial law.
The nation’s longstanding democratic institutions – the courts, the press and the people – are “standing up” to Trump right now, Himes said. He said his worry is what might happen if a cataclysmic event changes the status quo.
“If something happens, if we see a terrorist attack on our soil – don’t forget who we are,” said Himes, who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “Just because we’ve been struck doesn’t mean that we get racist. Just because we’ve been struck doesn’t mean that we impose martial law.”
The crowd responded with applause, though he said it was not his intention to take such a “dour” tone.
Health care addressed
The forum in Westport was the largest of three congressional town halls that took place in Connecticut Thursday, all of which addressed the latest Republican plan to overhaul the nation’s health care system — the Better Care Reconciliation Act under consideration on the Senate.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., drew a crowd of about 100 people at West Hartford Town Hall – his fourth health care forum in recent weeks. In nearby New Hartford, U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, drew about 60 people, a spokeswoman said.
While U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy did not host a town hall Thursday, he spent most of the day tweeting out stories of people he said would be affected by the Senate bill. He plans to host a telephone town hall on the legislation Friday at 10 a.m. U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, plans to hold a town hall in Meriden Monday night.
An analysis of the Senate bill by the Congressional Budget Office found the bill would leave 22 million more people uninsured by 2022, but would trim the federal budget deficit by $321 billion. Savings are achieved primarily through deep cuts to Medicaid.
A Quinnipiac University poll last month found the bill had 16 percent support.
Several Republican senators have expressed concerns, or are opposing the bill outright in its current form. With a narrow 52-48 majority, the Republicans cannot pass the bill if they lose more than two votes.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, signaled Thursday his caucus might not have enough support to pass the bill, which, he said, would necessitate action to stabilize the state health insurance exchanges.
“If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to private health insurance markets must occur,” McConnell said Thursday at a Rotary Club meeting in Kentucky, according to multiple media reports.
Himes said he hopes this opens the door for Democrats to engage with Republicans on a bipartisan solution.
“In a testimony to how pathological Washington has become, Mitch McConnell sort of acknowledged … that they might have to do some bipartisan work on health care,” Himes said. “Why we don’t start in that place is beyond me.”
Amid the GOP’s intra-party disagreement on the bill, Trump has urged repealing the Affordable Care Act now and devising a replacement later.
While Himes predominantly answered questions and concerns at his town hall, Blumenthal heard numerous stories from people who rely on the Affordable Care Act.
Amid all the adults coming to the stage, one small girl, dressed head-to-toe in purple and bouncing with eagerness alongside her brother and mother, spoke to the crowd.
Her mother, Rachel Botts from East Hartford, translated her whisper to the crowd.
“She has a little brother Daniel who she wants to teach and play with, and she needs your help to make sure she is still here to do that.”
The girl, Ariella Botts, will turn 5 years old on July 24. Born with a genetic disorder, she has a tube in her throat to help her breathe and keep her lungs from filling with liquid.
Rachel Botts and her husband both work two jobs; they both went to Trinity College; and they wouldn’t normally qualify for Medicaid, but Ariella’s medical costs are more than $20,000 a month.
“No average American family can afford that,” Botts said. “Without Medicaid it would bankrupt us in less than a month.”