U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal promised his base at a spirited town hall meeting that he will not just vote against Donald Trump, but make some trouble.
“I will do everything I can in terms of legal action outside of the Senate as well as being relentless within the Senate to stop and to resist any infringement on the power of the courts,” he said. “We can talk about alternative facts. But nobody is above the law.”
The Connecticut Democratic senator offered that defiant message and tone Saturday afternoon during the town hall meeting, held in the Wilbur Cross High School auditorium in East Rock.
In front of an audience of several hundred Connecticut residents, Blumenthal promised again and again to be relentless in defending the Affordable Care Act and women’s reproductive rights; relentless in preserving Social Security and Medicare; relentless in resisting the Trump administration’s many lies, conflicts of interest, and potential threats to American democracy.
The crowd, pressing the senator over the fate of Obamacare to the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the presidential administration’s cozy relationship with Russia, roared with approval at each commitment to legal and political resistance.
The town hall came on the heels of a rally in support of the Affordable Care Act that was held earlier in the afternoon on the Green. Both events coincided with similar protests and legislator conversations that took place in over 100 cities around the country on Saturday as part of a national day of activism in support of Obamacare, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Spurred by calls to action from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the rallies and town halls are an attempt by the Democratic base to reclaim some of the populist energy and anger that had animated the Tea Party’s successful rise to power nearly a decade ago.
New Haven Mayor Toni Harp began the meeting with an urgent denunciation of President Trump’s efforts to dismantle Obamacare, bar immigrants ostensibly for reasons of religion and national origin, and distract the nation with frequent reminders of his Electoral College victory in November.
“Today, ideals that I have long associated with the United States are in grave peril,” Harp said. “And I use that phrase knowingly. This is not a drill. Today there are threats to liberties, protections, and opportunities that we were accustomed to just a few short months ago. Today, a way of life is threatened for so many residents of this nation.”
“I Will Use The Filibuster”
The two dozen questions that the senator subsequently answered over the course of the hour-and-a-half town hall reflected that sense of urgency, desperation, and oppositional commitment.
New Haven resident David Goldstein approached the microphone to ask Blumenthal about the Supreme Court.
“I know that you saying that you’re not going to support Judge Gorsuch is not the same as you saying that you will help filibuster him,” he said to the senator.
“And to be honest, Mitch McConnell is counting on you and fellow senators like Chris Koons in Delaware and Dick Durbin in Illinois to not filibuster. That’s why he blocked Judge Garland, because he thought that you would not repay in kind. You talk about the tools available to you. The filibuster is available to you and to other Democratic senators.”
Blumenthal paused between bursts of applause, and then offered a response.
“Let me just clarify,” he said. “I will use the filibuster. I will use every tool at our disposal to fight a nominee who will change the balance of power on the court, and who is out of the mainstream.”
“I haven’t taken a public position on Gorsuch,” Blumenthal added, “but remember, the president who nominated him established a set of litmus tests: the nominee has to be pro-life, very pro-Second Amendment, and of a conservative bent. Judge Gorsuch has an obligation to answer those questions, and if he doesn’t, we have to assume that he passes the Trump litmus test. And if that’s the case, I would use the filibuster. I would use every tool at my disposal.”
Shifting the conversation from domestic to foreign policy, Maggie Quinn from Bethany took the microphone to ask a different question: about Russia, Rex Tillerson, and economic interests abroad.
“I’m concerned about our new Secretary of State and his involvement with oil interests in Russia and the potential for the reduction of sanctions on Russia as a result,” she said. “What can we do and what will you do to help retain sanctions on our most dangerous enemy?”
“What I proposed in the wake of the disclosures about the Russians’ attack on our democratic institutions is that there be heightened sanctions,” Blumenthal replied. “I want Rex Tillerson to come testify before the United States Senate. This is not something that he should do out of beneficence or graciousness. It’s his job. We might not be here today but for what the Russians did in the months leading up to the elections. We have real economic leverage here, and we ought to impose those sanctions.”
Over the course of the afternoon, Blumenthal returned time and again to his previous experience as Connecticut’s attorney general, citing battles waged against Big Tobacco and GM as evidence of his willingness to protect the basic rights and health of his constituents.
He also referenced his clerkship in the mid-1970s under Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, who wrote the final decision in Roe v. Wade, as an important influence on his understanding of the necessity to protect women’s constitutional rights to safe and legal abortions, even in the face of vitriolic opposition. (He didn’t mention his service as an aide to President Richard Nixon.)
But ultimately, as important as the specific issues under discussion Saturday afternoon was the audience’s demand that the senator approach this presidency with the utmost determination to resist.
“We are in the fight of our lives,” he replied. “I am in the fight of my life because I am fighting for your life. I need your help and your support so that I can fight tooth and nail to make sure that we keep the Affordable Care Act. That we preserve Social Security and Medicare. That we fight to preserve a free press and an independent judiciary.”