By Rob Borkowski
COVENTRY, RI — Residents from Kent County, including a few from Warwick, filled Coventry High School’s auditorium Sunday afternoon for a town hall meeting with Sen. Jack Reed,(D-RI), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI), learning a few things about national politics, praising the Congressmen, and venting about healthcare and the investigation of possible collusion with Russian efforts to weaken the United States.
A packed house greeted the delegation, who were joined by State Rep. Jared R. Nunes (D-Dist. 25,Coventry, West Warwick) and Jon-Paul Capece, a member of the Thundermist Health Center Board of Directors.
Capece told the audience of the care he received thanks to the Affordable Care Act, which had just survived Republican-led replacement option, the American Healthcare Act, that would’ve reduced federal deficits by $337 billion over the 2017-2026, according to a report from the Congressional Budget Office.
The GOP legislation would’ve also resulted in about 24 million fewer people receiving health insurance. In 2018, 14 million fewer people were projected to be covered, most of whom were anticipated to discard coverage without the federal mandate to seek coverage under the current Affordable Care Act. Many of the people required to seek coverage under the ACA were part of a plan to increase younger Americans’ participation in the health care system, which they would not use as much, helping to pay for the care of older Americans, who are typically more likely to need medical care.
Capece said that about five years ago, he suffered from an opiate addiction, and was on the edge of suicide, only receiving the treatment necessary to save his life thanks to the ACA, also known as Obamacare. He said the details of his struggle were unimportant.
“What is important is that you all realize that this happened to me, one of your neighbors. A kid with all the potential in the world who was nurtured in the most ideal environment. What is important is that if it happened to me, it could happen to your son, your father or mother, your daughter or sister,” Capece said.
“I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I am alive today because of the care I received through the ACA. In order for me to get healthy, I needed a lot of help. Help that, had I no insurance, my parents could not have paid for.”
Today, he said, he works for a non-profit prisoner-community re-entry program at the ACI called 9 Yards and is an associate adjunct professor at Roger Williams University. “Most importantly, however…” Capece’s speech was interrupted by applause, “Most importantly, however, I am a contributing, tax-paying member of society, who now pays for his insurance.
“So my life has come full circle, from a dead beat drug addict, whose life was turned around, by receiving Medicaid assisted health insurance, to a man who now pays into that same system, so that others may have the opportunity to do what I have done,” Capece said.
That comment earned Capece a much longer round of applause.
Reed credited average Americans, such as the ones in the room Sunday, with defeating the GOP attempt to undo the ACA. “The real thanks go to you. You, embracing fully, not just your right, but your responsibilities as American citizens to come out, let your voices be heard, and not just in Rhode Island, but all across this country,” Reed said.
Reed noted a large part of the GOP healthcare plan savings would’ve been borne on the backs of senior citizens. Under the ACA, insurance companies can only charge a senior three times what they might charge a younger person. “They pushed that to five,” Reed said.
“Guess what the companies were going to do as soon as this became law? They were going to hike the amount paid by seniors,” Reed said.
Langevin noted the defeat of the GOP healthcare plan ought to clear the field for honest attempts to improve the ACA. “I would hope that by now they (Republicans) got the message that if they want to get something accomplished, they have to do it in a bipartisan manner,” Langevin said.
Reed also spoke about the Congressional and FBI investigations into possible collusion between members of President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government during the November 2016 election that placed the real estate businessman in power.
“I think we need to go further. I think we need to have a special prosecutor, ” Reed said.
Special prosecutors are appointed to investigate and prosecute specific legal cases of potential wrongdoing in which a conflict of interest exists for the usual prosecuting authority. The first,Archibald Cox, was appointed by President Nixon in 1973 to investigate the Watergate scandal. Nixon fired him and Leon Jaworski took his place, conducting an inquiry that led to Nixon’s resignation according to a summary of the history on the Center for Legal and Economic Studies’ outline of the process.
The subject of conflicts of interest in the investigation rose last week when Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the leader of the US House investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with the Russians, communicated information about the investigation with the White House, before sharing that information with his fellow investigators.
Reed noted the investigation shouldn’t just focus on what has happened thus far with the Russians, but also look into ways to prevent such interference in the future. “This is the new normal with the Russians,” Reed said.
Several people lined up to praise and thank the Congressmen for their efforts to preserve the ACA and seek answers on Russian interference with American government, and each of their comments were met enthusiastic applause throughout the meeting. The atmosphere from the comments and supporting cheers and applause was one of relief that the ACA had survived, and rage that the Russians had intruded into American politics, and that their fellow Americans may have aided that effort.
Whitehouse encouraged members of the audience to read “The Kremlin Playbook,” which details Russian strategy in subverting enemy governments. “It’s free, and it reads like a novel. It’s really oppressive. And one of the things that they describe as the constant tool in the Russian election manipulation toolbox, all through the former Soviet states, and now, down into Europe, is that they get people entangled in business arrangements. Really lucrative business arrangements, that look a lot like, maybe even bribes. And then they’ve got the person, because they can do one of two things. They can keep bribing them and keep them more or less on the payroll, or they can blow the whistle on them, and out them as having been basically on the payroll. And that threat allows them to control the politician, who fears that their dealings will be exposed.”
Whitehouse noted the only way to know if that is happening is if an investigator has access to the person’s tax returns. Trump has refused to turn over his tax returns, first during the election itself and then after having won the presidency.
Once man, Scott Malloy of Exeter, retired professor emeritus at URI delivered a stinging condemnation of the situation.
“You know, we live in an era of swirling issues that separate friends and neighbors, and relatives. But one thing stands out above everything else, above healthcare, taxes, nominations, and walls. A subject that actually should unite us, is that Russian espionage has damaged our political system, attacks thousands of emails from one party only, has crossed the borders with thousands of cyber attacks, and bribed influential United States officials. But there is no treason without traitors. And we can go back to Judas, to Benedict Arnold, Vidkun Quisling, who sold Norway out to the Nazis in World War II. And now we have some Americans embracing the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union where dissidents, opponets, even parliamentary representatives, are assassinated, and those culprits are never brought to justice.” A loud round of applause filled the auditorium as Mallow paused.
“Here in America, the Trojan Horse, has breached the boundary and unloaded its cargo, and inside that Trojan Horse were no hispanic immigrants, but agents working against the interests of America. If we’re not careful, every traitorous step will lengthen into a goose-step. And Vladimir Lenin, has become Vladimir Putin, has become Vladimir Trump.
“Let me say, in conclusion, that only we people here, and you legislators and representatives, stand between traditional American liberties and Russian serfdom. Lock them up! Lock them up!
Malloy’s speech received perhaps the greatest number of cheers and applause of the afternoon, lasting for nearly a minute.
“There is no underestimating the severity of what took place in the last election,” Reed said. At the highest levels, there was an order to go in and hack into numerous websites, use that information to undermine Hillary Clinton’s campaign in favor of Trump, he said.
The effort also involved thousands of trolls and bots engaged in spreading disinformation across the internet, turning propaganda into trending stories that seemed credible to many.
“(FBI) Director Comey made it very clear they were investigating some individual associated with the Trump campaign,” Reed said.
Reed called for a joint committee to investigate Russian interference, past and potential. “This is not just about history, this is about the future of our Democracy, Reed said.