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Gallego jumps district lines to hammer McSally in healthcare rally

Dem. congressman to Tucson crowd: 'Everything Trump touches is a disaster'

As part of a political campaign designed to hammer away at Republican members of Congress for their votes on the American Health Care Act, Phoenix-based U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego hosted a town hall in Tucson, honing in on fellow Rep. Martha McSally's turf. 

More than 500 people showed up to cheer Gallego and jeer McSally at Rincon High School on Tuesday night over the controversial health care vote, which came in a hasty, thrown-together process in the U.S. House of Representatives last week. The vote, if followed up by the Senate, would repeals and replace much of Obamacare.

McSally defended her vote for the bill in a statement released after the vote, saying that she had "a binary decision: to support the [existing Affordable Care Act] or to begin moving towards an improved system that works. I voted yes to the AHCA in order to start that process."

"This is not a perfect bill, but it is better than a failed system," McSally said.

"I apologize that I am here, I should not be here," Gallego said. "I would like to tell you that you have a member of Congress that answers your questions, that took the time to read the bill that reorganizes one-sixth of the U.S. economy." 

"I'd like her to answer why she was so anxious to get this bleeping thing done," said Gallego, referencing a report by the Associated Press that during a GOP conference meeting, McSally stood up and said "Let's get this fucking thing done."

"It is not normal for members of Congress to cross into other districts and speak to the other member's constituents, but we are not dealing in normal times," Gallego said. "We do not have a normal president, we don't have a Republican party that's going to be responsible, and hold that president accountable." 

"Southern Arizonans will see right through Congressman Gallego's cynical partisan stunt," said Matt Kenney, the executive director of the Arizona Republican Party. "Why is he in Tucson advocating for legislation that has failed Arizonans, when he should be representing his own district in Phoenix?" 

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Kenney called the Democrat an "ineffective" Congressman, who "consistently puts personal ambition and partisan politics over serving Arizonans." 

Kelly Schibi, a spokeswoman for McSally echoed Kenney's comments, writing, "It is a shame that Rep. Gallego is choosing to hold political rallies outside of his district, instead of spending his time serving the constituents in his own congressional district in Phoenix," she said. 

While Gallego, whose CD 7 covers much of Phoenix and Glendale, focused on McSally and her vote for the AHCA, he also criticized Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey.

"While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau," Trump wrote to the man whose agency is investigating his campaign's ties to the Russian government.

'Show true patriotism'

"This is not good," Gallego said in Tucson. "This is not good for America. This is not good for democracy. This is not good for our future." Gallego asked Republicans and others to consider "patriotism above partisanship." 

"Show your true patriotism and hold the president accountable," Gallego rhetorically told McSally. 

"This is the most critical point in this fight. We must do everything we can because everything that Donald Trump touches is a disaster," Gallego said. 

Gallego referenced a report published in March by the Congressional Budget Office based on the first version of the AHCA, which said that 14 million Americans would be uninsured by 2018 and would rise another 10 million over the next decade, while another 7 million would lose their employer-based insurance by 2026. 

The CBO also expected that premiums would rise, while the federal deficit would shrink, however, the CBO was unable to analyze the revised version of the AHCA before the House members voted. 

"They tried to rush this as fast as possible before they were told the impact on it," Gallego said. He also went further, arguing that "cuts to Medicaid are going to pay for tax cuts for the rich."

"We are going to rob the poor to pay for the rich," said Gallego to a round of boos from the audience. 

"We actually don't know how much worse this new bill can be," Gallego said. "Martha McSally never cared to wait and ask. She aid she had two choices to pass or not pass. No Martha, your choice was to be a leader and say 'let's wait and see how this thing passes.'" 

"You don't know how many people are going to be affected by this bill. Do you know who else doesn't know? Martha McSally," Gallego said. 

Dr. Larry DeLuca, an emergency and critical care doctor with the University of Arizona, followed Gallego and criticized the AHCA, saying the bill was lacking "compassion and critical understanding." 

"This experiment has already been tried in the mid-2000s and has already failed," DeLuca said, reminding the audience that under then-Governor Jan Brewer, Arizona tried to minimize healthcare spending by pushing people off Medicaid. 

"What we saw was large, large numbers of people who previously had controlled diseases come into our emergency care department because they lost access to their health care providers." Following the passage of the Affordable Care Act, this trend reversed itself and Brewer, the "tea-partiest of the tea partiers" accepted the expansion of Medicaid in Arizona, and gradually, DeLuca said, "we began to dig ourselves out of this hole." 

"Did you know this country already has socialized medicine, you just have to have an emergency," DeLuca said, noting that under federal law hospitals are required to treat patients, or immediately transfer patients to another hospital for treatment regardless of their insurance. 

"You have access to the fastest, speediest, most expensive way we can deliver healthcare, but the law is the largest unfunded mandate." 

"The problem becomes not only a moral issue, but an economic one, it is cheaper to pay for these people to get their primary care and preventative care and keep them out of the most expensive part of the hospital, which is the emergency room."

Wheeler announces run

Bruce Wheeler, a member of the state House until this year, began a question and answer section by announcing his candidacy to run against McSally. 

"Everything is at risk here, we have a unpredictable and dangerous president and we have an enabler named Martha McSally, who is voting for all this dangerous and destructive legislation. She voted for Trump care and she doesn't have the courage to come and face her constituents," Wheeler said. 

"She wants to defund Planned Parenthood, I want to expand it. She wants to privatize healthcare, I want to have Medicare for everyone. There are basic differences between us, and I think I can take her on," said Wheeler, who had tested the waters for a congressional campaign last year but didn't raise much money.

"This district was carried by Hillary Clinton by five percentage points, so people were voting for Hillary and for Martha, which means that she got away with her moderate image, but she's no moderate," he said.

Other Democrats also seeking the seat held by McSally were at the event — some announced candidates and some whose names have been carefully floated. Among them were Ann Kirkpatrick, the ex-CD 1 congresswoman who lost a U.S. Senate race last year to John McCain, whose camp has said she might move to CD 2 to pursue the primary race. Others included announced candidate Billy Kovacs, a political newcomer, and Matt Heinz, who was beaten in the general election by McSally in November. Not available to attend because of his work schedule was Jeff Latas, an airline pilot who has said he is "exploring" a run. Latas, an ex-Air Force fighter pilot, lost in the crowded 2006 primary that sent former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on to her first congressional win.

"I sincerely feel that our democracy and our rights are being taken away from us every single day," said Jo Holt, chair of the Pima County Democratic party. "So, do you know what I do with my anger—I mean it would eat me up alive—I organize, I take action." 

Holt said that people could work with the party, or join the half-dozen political action groups that had tables in the hallway outside the auditorium. 

"We're going to keep the pressure on McSally, we're going to keep the pressure on McCain, we're going to keep the pressure on Flake," Holt said. 

"Republican double-speak is going to say that people have access to healthcare," Gallego said. "Look, I'm a five-seven Latino. I may have access to a basketball hop, but that doesn't mean I'll be able to dunk." 

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1 comment on this story

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135 comments
May 11, 2017, 8:47 am
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I don’t think I saw a story about this gathering in the morning daily…
Thanks for your coverage.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Rep. Ruben Gallego during a townhall on the American Health Care Act, a bill passed by the House that will repeal the 2008 Affordable Care Act.