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Forget McCain – Thank a Red-State Protester, a Woman Senator, or a Disability Rights Activist Today

In the wee hours of Friday morning, after barely four hours of debate, the Republican-controlled Senate failed to pass their “skinny repeal” bill by three votes: Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), and John McCain (R-AZ). The bill would have left at least 16 million more Americans uninsured and hiked premiums. It would have torpedoed insurance exchanges.

And yet, 49 Republicans voted “yes” on this disaster.

Calling your red-state senators must be exhausting. I know this because I am very lucky; my senators are from Massachusetts, and when I call their offices about healthcare, I get to hear that one supports single-payer and the other will do whatever it takes to protect the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I get that feel-good moment of doing my democratic duty without any humiliation, pain or mind-numbing frustration.

Calling someone like Ted Cruz, the man with as much compassion as he has charisma, is an endless cycle of rejections. You’re ignored or blocked from town halls. When his office does respond, it’s with canned lines of bigotry, misogyny, and trickle-down bullshit that you, the caller, have to listen to. Calling someone like Ted Cruz means suffering through all that to make your voice heard…and then watching him vote like an asshole anyways.

And yet, thousands and thousands of red-state Americans (most of them women) are still calling. Citizens from every walk of life call and call and call the terrible people who “represent” them. Groups like Indivisible, the Town Hall Project, and the Democratic Socialists of America organize and mobilize across the country, from Kansas to Missouri to Maine. Being an active, informed citizen of a democracy in a system which actively discourages you from participating, which relentlessly makes you aware of how outnumbered you are and how little your Tea Party representatives listen to you, is a miracle of civic duty.

If you’re a progressive who lives in a red state or under a Republican senator, working tirelessly to make the politics of your state less cruel, even knowing what monsters are your congresspeople, you’re a goddamn hero.

And last night, your work paid off. Even if you weren’t from Alaska, Arizona, or Maine (and thank you to the constituents of those three states), even if your senator ultimately betrayed your best interests, your calls constrained the terms of debate and made it more difficult to craft and pass a repeal bill. Callers in states like Kansas, Ohio, Nevada, and West Virginia kept Medicaid and the opioid crisis front-and-center. This forced McConnell to craft compromise bills rather than Freedom Caucus bills, and it trapped him in an awkward bargaining situation.

Disability rights activists like ADAPT, meanwhile, kept the pressure on the media and refused to let McConnell and Ryan slink into the darkness to craft this bill. Even leading up to McConnell’s democracy-threatening midnight vote, do you know what cable news was featuring? Some showy Scaramucci story. Disability rights activists prevented them from pulling this shit. With their die-ins, sit-ins, and repeated protests in a country which already makes it very difficult to get a wheelchair anywhere, they drew constant attention to the House and Senate repeal efforts, and they forced local and national news to focus on healthcare. They went to prison for protesting to protect their fellow citizens from dying. There’s pretty much nothing braver or more inherently decent than that.

And, of course, thank Collins and Murkowski. They’ve faced enormous, often misogynist pressure from their Republican colleagues: wishful promises of violence, threats against their state’s funding, whinging about “female senators from the Northeast,” and pledges from billionaires to fund primary challenges against them. In the face of this, they’ve steadfastly voted on behalf of their constituents instead of on behalf of Mitch McConnell. (Imagine that.) Their resistance set the stage for McCain to join them. And while they own a whole lot of toxic bullshit – I neither forgive nor forget Betsy Devos – on this issue, they saved millions of Americans from losing insurance, dying, or going into bankruptcy. Let them know you see it and appreciate it.

And, yeah, I do think it’s worth emphasizing that they’re both women. When we look at “Republicans who didn’t vote to murder people,” the women of the Senate are 2 out of 5 (40%) and the men are 1 out of 47 (2%). Sure, that pool of women is rather small, but the discrepancy is telling. When it came to courage and rational policy-making, the Republican men did not deliver. (However, credit to vulnerable red-state Democrats like Joe Manchin (D-WV), who never wavered in their commitment to the ACA. That man showed courage.)

If you’re in Arizona, you do with McCain what you want to do. He really did the right thing, in the end, and that deserves credit. He didn’t cave to McConnell, and he made that showboat speech from a few days ago actually mean something. If you’re an Arizonan who called him, he respected your best interests – and he listened to the concerns of his state governor. Our national healthcare prospects would be grotesque without his principled vote.

But he also voted to put millions of Americans through the stress of watching this debacle. He had the gall to declare, “Watch the show” before making his dramatic “no” vote. This was not an Aaron Sorkin season finale; this was people’s lives, and McCain undoubtedly toyed with them for his personal brand. However, if he’s so willing to do the right thing in exchange for attention, I totally understand why you may want to call him and give him that positive feedback. You may also just want to experience the relief of calling your Republican senator to say “Thank you” instead of “Please don’t kill me” for once. You may also be too furious to say thanks to this man. You do you.

This fight is far from over. McConnell and Paul Ryan love killing poor people, and as long as they hold the House and the Senate, repeal will be back. But for today…today, evil lost. And you won.

(Via Politico; image via Shutterstock)

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