The line to get into the one and only hearing on Graham-Cassidy, Republican senators’ last-ditch effort to repeal Obamacare, filled two lengthy hallways in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Monday. Not “spanned” two hallways—filled. Wheelchairs, three-deep, clogged the corridor; police stood shoulder to shoulder to protect a narrow walkway for people to pass.
Several of the protesters at the front of the line told me that they claimed their spaces at 5 a.m. Monday morning. They were with ADAPT, an organization of disability rights activists. As one woman told me, it takes those in wheelchairs a little bit longer to get ready in the morning, so their wake-up call came at 2:30 a.m. About 10 to 15 of those in wheelchairs were able to get into the hearing room, nearly 12 hours after they woke up.
They weren’t wasting any time. The second that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch tried to begin the hearing, the ADAPT protesters began to shout, “NO cuts to Medicaid, save our liberty!” They are still, about an hour later as I write this, chanting it in the hallways of Dirksen. It took Capitol police about 20 minutes to escort all of those disrupting the proceedings out of the room.
Some protesters followed the police officers’ order to leave. Others didn’t. At least one man would not move and police could not figure out how to unlock his wheelchair. He was picked up and carried out by about half a dozen officers. Others just made it difficult for the police.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a co-author of Graham-Cassidy, was set to testify on behalf of his own bill after the chairman and ranking member’s opening statements. He had to sit in his chair for longer than expected, though, watching expressionless as police tried to clear the room.
Shortly thereafter, a frustrated Graham left the room until the protesters had been removed.
Even once the Capitol police had emptied the room of disruptors, the noise outside did not die down. Hatch returned to the chair and said that “If the hearing is going to devolve into a sideshow, there’s absolutely no reason for us to be here.” It wasn’t there just yet, he added. But it was “close.”