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Heritage Foundation Rallies Support To Defund Obamacare


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

For those who oppose the president's health care law, Congress' summer recess is seen as a pivotal moment, a last best chance to try and stop it. The Heritage Foundation and its political activist arm, Heritage Action, are holding town hall style meeting in nine cities this month as part of what they're calling the Defund ObamaCare Tour.

NPR's Tamara Keith reports from the first stop in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The Affordable Care Act is about to become a reality. And the president of the Heritage Foundation, former GOP Senator Jim DeMint, doesn't want that to happen.

JIM DEMINT: Everyday we're finding out more about this Obamacare bill - how it's unfair, it's unworkable, unaffordable and increasingly unpopular. What we're trying to get people to realize this is an urgent time if we're going to stop it.

KEITH: The Supreme Court didn't stop it. Congress hasn't stopped it. Opponents don't have a lot of options left. But DeMint say there's still a way. At the end of September, Congress has to pass a bill to keep the government funded. So the idea goes: The House should pass a bill that funds the government but defunds the health care law.

DEMINT: This is the time to sound the alarm and tell Congress, OK, you've had enough symbolic votes to repeal it. The only real power you have is the power of the purse.

PROTESTERS: (Chanting) No repeal. No repeal. No repeal.

KEITH: As people drove up to the scenic barn-turned-wedding venue where the town hall took place, they passed a small group of protesters, holding signs and occasionally chanting.

Kendy Skrocki, a teacher from Fayetteville, showed up with a handwritten sign.

KENDY SKROCKI: Personally, in my family, three people have died or been permanently disabled as a result of not having health care, truthfully. And I'm just a regular middle-class person. So, you know, I think it should be a right.

KEITH: This was the work of the democratic group, Americans United for Change which promises to follow the town hall tour on all of its stops. But recently, this has seemed less a fight between Democrats and Republicans than within the GOP. Several prominent Republicans have made it clear they think this strategy is a bad idea, political suicide.

Even if Republicans were united, it's hard to imagine a scenario where the president would sign a bill that undermines his signature achievement. But that is not what more than 300 people came to a big red barn in Fayetteville to hear.

MICHAEL NEEDHAM: Right now, they are saying there is no way we can defund Obamacare. Friends, yes we can.


KEITH: Michael Needham is CEO of Heritage Action, and he borrowed a rallying cry from President Obama's campaign to get the crowd fired up.

NEEDHAM: Can we leave this place today and go out there and reverse the course of this country?


NEEDHAM: Yes, we can.

KEITH: This being a town hall, there were questions from the audience, written in advance on note cards and read by Russ Vought, the political director for Heritage Action, thus avoiding any mic-hogging theatrics.

RUSS VOUGHT: Senator DeMint, what's the point of voting to defund Obamacare when we know that President Obama won't sign it?

DEMINT: Well, we don't know that, do we?

KEITH: DeMint says it could well mean a political standoff, with a partial government shutdown as a result.

DEMINT: The risk of that is so much less than the risk to our country, if we implement Obamacare. And so, I'm not as interested in the political futures of folks who think they might lose a showdown with the president.

KEITH: In an interview, DeMint went even further. He says President Obama has congressional Republicans number because they've shown they'll back down.

DEMINT: I think he knows that Republicans are afraid. And if they are, they need to be replaced.

KEITH: The second stop on the tour is tonight in Dallas, Texas.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.