Denouncing the GOP tax bill as a "dangerous" scheme that "gives away huge amounts of money to those who need it least and takes money from those who need it most," a group of 10 religious leaders occupied an office of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Thursday demanding that she reverse her decision to support the deeply unpopular legislation.
"We think this tax bill is immoral and unjust and harmful and we're here to wait for Sen. Collins to commit to a no vote on this bill."
—Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill, Maine Council of Churches
"We're here because our faith compels us to be here," Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill, vice president of the Maine Council of Churches, said from inside Collins' Portland, Maine office. "We think this tax bill is immoral and unjust and harmful and we're here to wait for Sen. Collins to commit to a no vote on this bill."
The group—all members of Moral Movement Maine—remained in the senator's office after Collins staffers locked up for the day, and nine of the 10 demonstrators were ultimately arrested and charged with criminal trespass late Thursday night. The demonstration, which included a 45-minute phone conversation with Collins, was streamed on Facebook.
"We are gentle, loving people, and we are singing for our lives," members of the group intoned as police officers escorted them out of the office in handcuffs.
Ewing-Merrill said that while he and other members of the group did not want to be arrested, a short stint in jail is "a pretty minor inconvenience when compared to how this bill is going to devastate people's lives."
"This is not a stunt, but it's clear the senator is not ready to stand by a no vote," Ewing-Merrill concluded.
The sense that Collins' support for the GOP tax plan is wavering was bolstered Friday morning after Bloomberg reported that the White House will not commit to supporting two key Obamacare stabilization measures, the passage of which Collins was promised in exchange for her vote.
"Republican leaders are using this tax scam to attack healthcare again."
—Sunjeev Bery, MoveOn.org
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also reassured Collins in a written statement that he would not allow the tax legislation, which still has to make its way through a conference committee, to trigger automatic cuts to Medicare—a promise critics mocked as not worth the paper it's written on.
"Perhaps Collins could use the letter as tinder to get her fireplace going when she returns to the Maine winter?" wrote Slate's Jim Newell shortly after the Senate bill passed with Collins' support.
Once the bill makes its way out of committee, it will go to the floor of both houses of Congress for a final vote.
Groups that have been working for months to stop the GOP tax plan seized upon the crumbling promises of Republican leaders—and Collins' remarks in a recent interview signaling that she is open to changing her vote—to urge Mainers and other Americans to ramp up pressure on their senators to reverse their positions and stop the legislation from reaching President Donald Trump's desk.
"Senator Susan Collins betrayed regular Mainers and voted for the GOP's tax scam last week with two conditions: that Congress would act to shore up the Affordable Care Act and that there would be no cuts to Medicare," Sunjeev Bery of MoveOn.org noted in an email to supporters on Friday.
Now that it is becoming clear that McConnell's promises were "just empty words," Bery wrote, it is crucial that Mainers flood Collins' phone lines "each day to keep the pressure up."
"Republican leaders are using this tax scam to attack healthcare again," Bery concluded, addressing Collins. "You can still save your dignity and healthcare for countless Mainers—vote no on the final tax bill."