Protesters Blockade RNC, McCain’s Office

Posted April 29, 2008 at 6:34pm

At least 21 people were arrested Tuesday during a protest that cut off access to GOP presidential candidate John McCain’s Senate office and Republican National Committee headquarters for most of the afternoon.

Hundreds of protesters from the disability advocacy group ADAPT gathered at the Arizona lawmaker’s suite in the Russell Senate Office Building and at the RNC on First Street Southeast, urging McCain to sign onto legislation that would increase access to community- based health programs for those needing long-term care.

A handful of demonstrators pushed their way past security guards and into the RNC lobby, and protesters in wheelchairs blocked the building’s entrances.

An ambulance arrived on the scene, but there were no immediate reports of injuries.

After blocking the RNC doors, some protesters wrapped yellow police-like tape around the entrances, while others unveiled a number of signs, including one reading “Stop Funding Institutions” and another reading “Sen. McCain Support Community Choice.”

In Russell, dozens of protesters — most of them also in wheelchairs — blocked off much of the second floor and took over the lobby of McCain’s office, chanting, “People are dying, shame on you” and “I’d rather go to jail than die in a nursing home.”

Russell is where Capitol Police arrested the 21 protesters, some of them in wheelchairs, according to a Capitol Police spokeswoman, Sgt. Kimberly Schneider. Later in the afternoon, access to the area around the office was reopened, with dozens of police officers monitoring the ongoing sit-in from the hallway.

Both the Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police Department responded to the protest at the RNC building, and the demonstrations continued well into the evening.

ADAPT national coordinator Mike Oxford, who took part in the protest outside the RNC, said the group came to Capitol Hill to urge McCain to support the Community Choice Act, sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.).

McCain was campaigning in Florida on Tuesday. The Senator has not yet had a chance to review the bill in-depth, a spokesman said.

A RNC spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

The protest is one in a series ADAPT has sponsored over the years in support of legislation that would shift federal money to community-based disability assistance and away from nursing homes and other institutions. The group held a similar protest at the Department of Health and Human Services on Monday.

Medicaid currently pays for long-term care in nursing homes and other institutions but does not pay for the same services provided at an individual’s home. ADAPT and other disability activists argue that this “institutional bias” essentially forces people with disabilities to move into such facilities.

The Community Choice Act would allow Medicaid dollars to flow to community-based care options, but the bill has yet to be considered on the floor in either chamber. Variations of the legislation have been introduced since the late 1990s but have stalled over cost estimates suggesting the bill could cost tens of billions of dollars annually.

Disability advocates believe these estimates are wildly overstated, and supporters are working with the Congressional Budget Office to get a new, more realistic cost estimate for the bill before moving it to a vote in either chamber, according to Democratic staffers.

Both of the Democratic presidential contenders, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.), have signed on as co-sponsors of the Senate bill, and the goal of Tuesday’s protest was to get a meeting with key Republicans through which protesters hoped to win McCain’s endorsement as well, Oxford said.

“We really had wanted to meet with top people with the RNC, as well as get their help in meeting with the contender of this party, Sen. McCain,” Oxford said.

The protest also marked the 25th anniversary of ADAPT, and many protesters wore tie-dyed shirts to mark the occasion.

Not all of the protesters were focused on blocking access to offices. Judy Ball handed out fliers about the Community Choice Act near the Capitol South Metro stop. Ball traveled from Texas to help with the protest and said she came to support a disabled friend.

“If something happens to his wife, they could say, ‘You’ll be put in a nursing home,’” she said.

Oxford said the group did not intend for the protest to create strife between ADAPT and Republicans, but rather engage folks on an important issue.

“People are inconvenienced for a couple of hours versus their entire life,” Oxford said. “We really ask people to look at it like that.”

Ashley Roque of CongressNow and Bill Clark contributed to this report.