U.S. Representative Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) returned to Macalester on Saturday morning, and, reveling in the defeat of the Republican American Health Care Act, packed the Alexander G. Kagin Ballroom for her fifth town hall of 2017.
The event, coming not 24 hours after the Democrats’ biggest victory since President Trump’s election in November, had a notably upbeat feel.
McCollum spoke for twenty minutes before taking questions from her constituents. The focus of the first part of the event was squarely on the Republican failure to replace the Affordable Care Act with a plan that McCollum called “terrible.” According to the Congressional Budget Office (C.B.O.), it would have stripped some 24 million Americans their health insurance.
“The credit for this victory — and I could not be more clear about this — belongs to you,” McCollum said. “The millions of citizens, their engagement, their dedication, created an avalanche of opposition to the Republican health care bill.”
“The phone calls were amazing,” McCollum continued. “I felt pretty confident walking up to one of my colleagues saying this was 100 to 1, or 150 to 1.”
In addition to grassroots activism, McCollum credited certain moderate Republicans like Pennsylvania’s Charlie Dent for the law’s defeat. “There were some very good people on the Republican side, and they said no, this isn’t a good bill,” McCollum said.
Still, she warned her audience to stay vigilant on the issue of healthcare.
“Yesterday, we had a victory,” McCollum said. “But the Affordable Care Act is not safe. We need to fully expect the White House and this Congress to try to sabotage the A.C.A. They’ll use any lever of power they can that does not use a vote in public. Our work is not done.”
McCollum said that she found President Trump’s statement a week ago that he will wait to act again on healthcare until the ACA fails “profoundly disturbing.”
“We should not play political games with people’s lives… Healthcare is a right for all Americans,” McCollum said. “A human right.”
McCollum — citing that same C.B.O. report — said that had the GOP’s American Health Care Act been passed, 53,000 people in Minnesota’s 4th Congressional District would have lost their coverage.
One of the first questions addressed the evidence tying the president’s campaign and staff to the Russian government. McCollum, in response, did not hold back. “Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine that Congress would have to grapple with something so unsettling… the whole issue is just stunning to me,” she said.
McCollum praised California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, but said — as was the case with Watergate — that the Senate might move faster than the House to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia.
House Democrats have called on Republican David Nunes, the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee whose conduct in the past week McCollum called “just unheard of,” to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
McCollum went further in her comments. “There’s no way this Republican-controlled Congress can lead an impartial investigation into the Trump ties to Russia,” she said. “We need an independent special prosecutor to be appointed to investigate Russian activity.”
“We were attacked by a foreign adversary,” she continued. “That demands a full, independent, transparent investigation, no matter where the facts lead.”
Many of the stories during the question-and-answer session revolved around the personal costs of healthcare.
One woman testified that the cost of treatment for her son’s Crohn’s disease is $30,000 per dose, or $180,000 per year. “No health care system can withstand that kind of cost,” she said, emphasizing the importance of fixing the A.C.A. rather than repealing it.
Another questioner — with whom McCollum was on a first-name basis — brought up the national single-payer healthcare bill introduced each year in the House by Michigan Rep. John Conyers and got a huge reception from the crowd.
Avik Herur-Raman ’20, who attended the event, used the word “relieved” to characterize the audience.
“On one side they were happy that Republicans failed and that Obamacare is still there,” Herur-Raman said. “On the other side, they were also agitated — pushing for more. Healthcare is going to survive, but we need to either push for universal healthcare or double down and strengthen what we have.”
With the exception of an anti-vaccine activist, the tone of the question-and-answer portion of the event was positive. Applause breaks were frequent.
McCollum, contrasting the mood with the animosity that has been prevalent at town halls across the country this year, remarked, “That doesn’t have happen in the 4th district! Everybody is respectful — I just have the best darn people in the whole United States!”
Although the event was comprised mostly of residents from around Saint Paul and the greater Twin Cities area, Macalester students and faculty were also present in the audience.
“It was good to hear what people are thinking, what people are concerned about,” Herur-Raman said. “[It was] also nice to hear that Betty McCollum is still fighting, even though she’s in the minority and her party doesn’t have much power.”
McCollum was energetic and engaged throughout the event — which ran more than a half hour over its allotted time — reflecting, perhaps, a renewed sense of vigor among President Trump’s opponents.
“We need to use every level of power at our disposal to stop the White House and the Republican Congress,” McCollum said. “We need to use the power of the people, as we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks. We need people to be active and engaged.”
“I want to thank you all again for making yesterday happen,” McCollum concluded. “It wouldn’t have happened without you.”