Jan. 9--A week after President Donald Trump's campaign stop at a mostly Hispanic Miami megachurch, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez came to town to launch a counteroffensive stressing the "broken promises" made by Trump to Latinos when it comes to healthcare coverage.
Calling the effort Latinos Against Trump! Perez told local Democratic leaders Thursday that the Affordable Care Act -- reviled by Republicans despite the millions who remain enrolled in the program to obtain their health insurance -- will be a main focus in the 2020 campaign.
"As we head into this election cycle, we're going to be talking about healthcare every single day because it's the most important issue for so many people here in Florida and across the country," said Perez, whose South Florida appearance fell exactly one week before Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to headline a Latinos for Trump event in Kissimmee.
Healthcare is a top priority for voters, polls show, and is especially relevant in South Florida, where counties lead the state in total sign-ups for health insurance under the ACA, also known as Obamacare. Hialeah, for example, has the highest Obamacare enrollment in the country.
"We are here today with an Affordable Care Act that was a game changer," Perez told the group. "It was the Democrats who did it. It was the Democrats who were able to give people a sense of relief."
Thursday's roundtable with leaders like state Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo, state Rep. Cindy Polo, D-Miami Springs, and SEIU Local 1991 leader Martha Baker stressed the importance of Medicaid expansion while also discussing moves by the Trump administration to dismantle the ACA.
Since he took office, Trump has often spoken about repealing the ACA and imposing rigid caps on the federal government's Medicaid spending. In 2017, Congress considered and rejected a series of proposals to do both.
The visit kicked off Perez's tour of battleground states, where he will be meeting with voters to raise concerns over Trump's approach to healthcare. The planned stops also include states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Perez, who was appointed Labor secretary under President Barack Obama, said without Democrats' actions on healthcare during the Obama administration, millions of Americans wouldn't have gained coverage, especially Latinos.
Perez also criticized the Republican-led Florida Legislature, which has not expanded Medicaid access to patients in the state. A top Trump Medicaid official now heads up the state's Agency for Health Care Administration .
"States that expand Medicaid are states who are doing better," Perez said. "And Florida has the fourth highest ranks of uninsured."
Millie Herrera, a Democratic activist who suffered a heart attack in 2015, said by attacking the ACA, Republicans are "threatening me with a death sentence."
Herrera, 62, of Coral Gables, is one of 7 million Floridians who live with preexisting conditions. She didn't have consistent health insurance until the ACA, which allowed people to obtain insurance without penalty for preexisting conditions.
"Every time I had a pain, I said, 'What am I going to do?' " she said. "In 2015 I was under the Affordable Care Act and I had a heart attack. I went to the hospital right away and prevented a major heart attack. My story is of the Latinos who didn't have insurance and now they have it. ... Everybody gets sick. It's not Democrat or Republican."
Rep. Polo, who is headed into her second legislative session Tuesday, has filed a Medicaid expansion bill for the second time. Expanding Medicaid would provide coverage to people under age 65 with income equal to or below 138% of the federal poverty level.
"It will also be the second time it doesn't get a hearing," she said, acknowledging the lack of power Democrats have in Tallahassee. "We say we stand for the people of our community. We say we stand for their best interest. But all we see is partisan politics and loyalty to the wrong people."
Perez said it's crucial that Democrats elect someone with strong standing in battleground states like Florida, because Americans "want a president who will keep their promises" on issues like healthcare but also key topics like immigration, gun issues and tax cuts for the middle class.
"All of the front-runners for the Democratic primary are exceedingly competitive in the battleground states," he said. "We're right on the issues that matter most. ... I know we have a lot of work to do here in Florida."
The Miami stop represented a rarity in the 2020 presidential campaign season so far, as Florida visits from Democrats have been few and far between. Since the first Democratic debate in June 2019, just a handful of Democratic candidates have made stops in Florida, like former Vice President Joe Biden in September and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar in December.
When asked about the lack of candidate presence in Florida, Perez pointed to "a 90-day sprint" after primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, which are held Feb. 3, 11, 22 and 29, respectively.
"After those first four states, you won't be asking that question," he said.
Florida's primary is March 17.
While Democrats no longer have a Latino candidate in the presidential race after former Housing Secretary Julián Castro dropped out of the race last week, Perez said the other candidates care about the issues that matter to the Latino community.
"Julián was a great champion for immigration, for quality education, for heathcare issues that resonate in Latino communities," he said. "And so are the other candidates."
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