For David Broder, protecting health care is about more than providing for his union’s workers.
Broder, president of the Service Employees International Union, said he regularly sees employees in the nursing, healthcare and service sectors struggle without reliable access to affordable health care. That included his mother-in-law, who didn’t have preventative treatment that might have helped her fight breast cancer. By the time of her diagnosis, it was already at stage four. She died two years ago, leaving behind a daughter and grand daughter.
“I’m here because that’s wrong,” Broder said during an April 13 demonstration outside the Sterling office of 10th District Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA). “No child should be missing their grandmother simply because they didn’t have access to screenings because they didn’t have access to affordable health care.”
Broder was among several speakers that shared their health care story outside Comstock’s office during a week-long series of protests. Organized and supported by liberal-minded groups like Indivisible, Dump Comstock, Planned Parenthood and the SEIU, these were the latest in an ongoing series of demonstrations demanding the second-term congresswoman face her constituents to explain her positions on health care, the environment and dozens of other issues. They reflect a recent wave of liberal activism, which in addition to rallies and public protests to resist the agenda of President Donald Trump, has seen an influx of new, more progressive-minded political candidates line up to take on Republicans in gubernatorial elections, the General Assembly and Comstock’s seat in 2018.
Since taking office in 2015, Comstock has touted her accomplishments as a bipartisan legislator, highlighted by efforts to pass the 21st Century Cures Act and spearheading the INSPIRE Women Act. She raised more than $500,000 for her 2018 re-election campaign since the start of this year, which her supporters say shows that she still has considerable popularity in the 10th District following her nearly seven-point win in the 2016 election.
But Comstock’s support for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has been point of contention for demonstrators, with many saying the health care bill preserves their life because it forbids insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and outlaws life time insurance caps. Comstock has called the ACA unsustainable in the long term and that it insures many people in name only, as they are unable to afford high deductibles and rising premium costs.
Though she still supports ACA replacement, Comstock came out against the proposed revision designed by Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan hours before it was pulled for consideration, saying there was too much uncertainty in the new bill for her to support it.
In a district that voted overwhelmingly in favor of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016, Comstock publicly distanced herself from Trump during her 2016 re-election campaign for Congress, officially repudiating him following the release of a tape where the then-Republican party nominee made sexually explicit comments. Representing one of the nation’s largest Muslim populations, she also came out against his initial travel ban temporarily banning travel from seven predominately Muslim countries.
Activist groups have said she has not gone far enough to explain her positions on many other topics, and have demanded in protests this past week and in the past few months to know where she stands on major Trump policies, including a wall across the nation’s southern boarder and proposed cuts to the EPA budget.
Comstock’s detractors have said her silence on these issues is evident of a larger failing to properly serve her constituents. Activist groups have demanded an in-person appearance, and in February they held a town hall without her, which Comstock said she couldn’t attend because of a long-standing prior commitment. Last week, Dump Comstock put up a crowdfunded billboard in Winchester that tells Comstock to “do her job” and hold a town hall.
“I think she it owes it to her voters to go on the record with her positions,” said Indivisible organizer Jan Hyland. “If she is confident with her positions, she should have no hesitance to talk to anybody in any forum. It should be frequent and often, and right not were getting nothing but orchestrated Facebook posts.”
The Congresswoman and her staff have pointed to her packed schedule of meeting with groups across the sprawling 10th district as well as recent teleconference town halls that reached out to thousands. That hasn’t been enough for her detractors who say these are artificially manufactured by her camp and prevent meaningful dialogue.
“We want anything to get her attention because right now she’s ignoring us and dismissing us,” Hyland said. “We’re not going away.”