Protests, Arrests Immediately Derail Only Senate Hearing On O’Care Repeal Bill

Activists opposed to the  GOP's Graham-Cassidy health care repeal bill, many with disabilities, are removed by U.S. Capitol Police after disrupting a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the last-ditch GOP push to overhaul the nation's health care system, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Sept. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Just after the gavel struck to open the Senate’s only hearing on the Graham-Cassidy Obamacare repeal bill, a group of activists in wheelchairs with the disability rights group ADAPT, broke out into loud chants of  “No cuts to Medicaid, save our liberty,” bringing the proceedings to a grinding halt.

As Capitol Police officers dragged the protestors out of the hearing room one by one, they continued to chant at full volume. Finance Committee Chair Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), visibly frustrated by the demonstration, banged the gavel repeatedly. “Do you want to have a hearing?” he asked.

When they protesters did not quiet down, he put the committee officially in recess and left the room. Many Democrats and Republicans on the committee remained on the dais, quietly watching the demonstration unfold.

As soon as the last protester was removed, Hatch sat back down and gaveled the hearing back in. “Let’s have some order,” he said, as the chants continued to drift in from the hallway outside, where arrests continued. “If you can’t be in order, get the heck out of here.”

The U.S. Capitol Police announced later on Monday that they had arrested 181 protesters in total—15 in the hearing room were charged with “disruption of Congress” and more than 100 others were charged with blocking the hallway and resisting arrest.

“Several of the demonstrators, as part of their protest activities, removed themselves from their mobility devices and lay themselves on the floor, which resulted in USCP officers having to reunite demonstrators with their mobility devices,” said the Capitol Police.

Before the hearing began, one of the ADAPT demonstrators told TPM that he had traveled all the way from Kansas to show his dissent to the bill the Senate may vote on this week, particularly its cuts to traditional Medicaid.

“Medicaid pays for the home care services that people with disabilities need,” Mike Oxford said. “The money will shrink. Those block grants are going to go away. States will not replace that money. States have proven that they’re not as good at protecting, planning, and overseeing these programs. The states have been in charge and they suck at it. That’s why we want federal protections. That’s why I’m here.”