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Democrats Hold Rallies Across Country To Fight GOP Efforts To Repeal Obamacare

Jan 13, 2017
Originally published on January 13, 2017 2:41 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

With Republicans about to control both Congress and the White House, Democratic lawmakers are trying to figure out how to fight back. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders says that means leaving Washington. So this weekend, Democrats will hold rallies across the country to fight Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare.

NPR's Scott Detrow reports that Sanders is headed to Michigan, a state Democrats lost in the presidential race by the slimmest of margins.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: In a demonstration of just how much clout Sanders now carries in Congress, he'll be joined outside Detroit on Sunday by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

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BERNIE SANDERS: The goal is to rally the American people against the disastrous Republican proposal.

DETROW: Since Congress came back earlier this month, Schumer and other Democratic leaders have been doing what they normally do - holding big press conferences, doing a lot of TV interviews.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: I rise to talk about the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

DETROW: Earlier this week, Senate Democrats talked late into the night for about all the good they say Obamacare's done.

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MARTIN HEINRICH: ...Repeal and replace, and now they're giving us repeal and run.

ELIZABETH WARREN: Repeal and run...

DETROW: The big posters, the personal stories, the catchy slogans - it's the typical minority party playbook.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: ...Better plan since 2010.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Show me the plan.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Show us your plan.

DETROW: But it's a little harder to break through all the noise in an era when President-elect Trump can basically reprogram cable news with a single tweet. Schumer is trying to get Senate Democrats more engaged on social media.

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SCHUMER: I've been on Facebook and Snapchat, but what about Twitter? So tweet me your questions about ACA.

DETROW: But no one else in Washington has been able to dominate it like Trump. This clearly frustrates Sanders. He wants Democrats to reimagine how they get their message out beyond floor speeches and press conferences.

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SANDERS: You also need an outside-the-Beltway strategy. How do you mobilize millions of people and to get them to understand that the Republicans are doing exactly the opposite of what the American people want?

DETROW: That's what this Michigan event is all about. Sanders tapped the massive email list he put together during his primary campaign, blasting out messages about the Michigan rally and similar events across the country. He and Schumer will be trying to make their case in a state where Democrats typically did well with working class voters but faltered badly in 2016.

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SANDERS: There are many parts of the country that I could have gone to, but Michigan is a great state. It's a state where I did well in the Democratic primary, and it is a state where Trump won.

DETROW: Democrats are now out of power at pretty much every level of government. Party leaders are trying to figure out their strategy, but so are grassroots activists. One place many liberals are turning - an online guide called Indivisible. It's basically a manual written by former Democratic congressional staffers that lays out ways that Democrats could use Tea Party tactics to fight Trump. Ezra Levin helped put it together. He says the Tea Party did one thing really well.

EZRA LEVIN: If they were in Texas, they didn't call members of Congress in California. They knew that they were constituents of people who had a voice in Washington, and they focused on their two senators and their representative.

DETROW: That's what this guide recommends for Democrats trying to figure out how to organize. It offers practical tips, like how to effectively call a lawmaker's office or how to best pressure a representative during a town hall. Levin says he wants readers to understand that it's really easy for people to become politically active.

LEVIN: This means getting a handful of your friends together or joining an existing group and just getting out there on a regular basis at district offices, at public events or just making calls.

DETROW: That kind of grassroots spirit is what lifted Bernie Sanders' surprising presidential campaign, and it got Barack Obama all the way to the White House. But when Obama tried to use his campaign apparatus, an email list, to mobilize supporters in legislative fights, he had a mixed record. Now Sanders is trying to do the same thing. Sunday will be the first test of how much momentum he still has. Scott Detrow, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.