“Everyone wants to talk about health care—I’ve never known everyone wanting to discuss the same issue like this before,” said Ms Collins, seated in an office at the town’s harbour, after she had marched alongside the local pipe bands, beauty queens and veterans, and chatted with the crowds that lined the parade route. “Almost everyone says the same things: ‘Stay strong’, ‘We’re with you’, ‘Thank you for being opposed to the Senate bill’.” Of the “hundreds and hundreds” of people who raised the issue with her in Eastport—which is in one of Maine’s most conservative counties, 56% of whose voters backed President Donald Trump last November—Ms Collins said only one person had told her to quit griping and repeal Barack Obama’s health-care regime, as the Republicans have long vowed to do.
For Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader in the Senate, this is the nightmare he had sought to forestall by trying to hustle the health-care bill—derided on the left as “Trumpcare”—through before the recess. Exposed to anxious voters—22m of whom stand to lose their health-care coverage over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s assessment of Trumpcare—Republican senators seem increasingly unlikely to rally behind Mr McConnell’s bill, or anything closely resembling it.
The left-wing activists will claim success for that, but should not. In fear of a barracking from angry lefties, only three of the 52 Republican senators, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Ted Cruz of Texas and Jerry Moran of Kansas—all of whom criticised Mr McConnell’s bill—scheduled a town-hall hearing during the recess. Only four, including Ms Collins and Mr Cruz, were willing to advertise their Independence Day plans. Mr Cruz, who objects to the draft health-care bill on the basis that it retains too much of Obamacare’s pro-poor regulation, was rewarded by being greeted in McAllen, Texas, by protesters waving “Ted wants us dead” placards. (“Isn’t freedom wonderful?” he said.) Yet Republican lawmakers are more concerned about the effect of the threatened reform on their own voters, millions of whom could lose their health insurance under the draft bill.
Mr McConnell, who has himself been subjected to a range of protests—including a street-rave by gay dancers outside his Washington, DC, residence—maintains he will address all Republican objections to the bill, and bring it to the Senate floor shortly after the recess. He can hardly promise less. Republican lawmakers are also keenly aware that they face humiliation and a backlash from conservative voters if they—while in control of all arms of the government—cannot claim to have scrapped Obamacare, after having promised for seven years that they would.