Antonio Davis lives in Stamford, hundreds of miles from the nation's capital, but Sen. Chris Murphy believes the 18-month-old's heart-wrenching story played a part in Senate Republicans scrapping a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
In an interview in his Senate office, Murphy said activism from his constituents back home and those who shared stories of how the Republican legislation would hurt them were key to sinking the vote, which leaders had been pressing for before senators leave Friday for the July 4 recess. He urged them to keep at it.
"People in Connecticut who are angry about this bill often lament that they don't have anybody to convince in Connecticut because we're all opponents to the Republican repeal bill. But the stories they tell us we use on the Senate floor," Murphy said. "We want people to continue to tell us their stories, we want them to create a commotion on social media."
Murphy held up a photograph of Antonio — who suffers from a rare genetic disease called Lesch-Nyhan syndrome — at a rally on the steps of the Capitol about an hour before Republicans put off the vote. Antonio's mother, Kamera Dukes, wrote to Murphy's office after the House passed legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
"I am begging you and your fellow Senators on the USA to vote this bill down on the Senate floor. Do not allow this monstrosity to become a law in our great nation," she wrote.
Dukes quit her full-time job and took part-time work to accommodate Antonio's doctors appointments and therapy sessions. As a result she lost her health insurance and relies on Medicaid to pay for her son's medical expenses.
"Having health care gives me one less thing to worry about — knowing my son can get the meds he needs to keep him healthy, alive and able to move is an awesome thing — a blessing and something I do not want to lose," she wrote.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal has been collecting similar stories during "emergency field hearings" he convened on the Senate bill, in part because Republicans held no public hearings on the legislation.
"Real-life stories about the human suffering resulting from this cruelly and grotesquely costly bill are worth a thousand speeches," Blumenthal said. "Those individual stories make such a difference and they can make history."
Blumenthal has repeatedly told the story of Conner Curran, a 6-year-old boy from Ridgefield who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a degenerative, terminal disease that has no cure. His treatments cost in the tens of thousands of dollars, and lifetime coverage limits that are part of the Republican bill would limit his access to care. At the same rally that Murphy joined, Blumenthal held up Conner's photograph.
Earlier in the day the two senators held a press conference about how cuts to Medicaid in the bill would hamper access to treatment for people battling opioid addiction.
Speaking at the opioid press conference, Blumenthal held a photograph taken of him and Sean Lafferty of Torrington at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. It was after a news conference about cuts to Medicaid contained within the House health care bill. Lafferty was in recovery at the time.
"Sean relapsed. He overdosed. He died," Blumenthal said. "Sean could not come to the emergency field hearing that I conducted ... because he was buried just about a week before."
"Sean is dead, but Sean is still with us today," he said. "Sean is someone you know and probably someone close to you because we are all touched by this problem. ... It is an epidemic that is ravaging every community."
In his Senate office late Monday afternoon Blumenthal said he believed Republicans were moved by these types of stories. Not all Republicans, but enough that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., could not get 50 members of his 52-member caucus to agree to vote on the bill this week.
Political prognosticators have said the delay will benefit Democrats, as Republican senators head back to their states and get an earful from angry constituents about the millions more Americans who would be uninsured if the bill is signed into law, but Murphy and Blumenthal said activists can't rest easy. Both credited McConnell with being a master tactician and negotiator and expected a revised version of the bill to surface.
"We have won a reprieve more than a victory – and there is no time for complacency," said Blumenthal, who plans to hold additional hearings on the bill. "This titanic fight for the American health care system is far from over."
Murphy and Blumenthal were at a caucus meeting with their fellow Senate Democrats, formulating a strategy for how they would handle a vote that was expected to take place Thursday, when they got the news of the delay. Murphy said an excited Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, ran over and showed him a tweet from CNN.
"I spoke up at our caucus lunch and reminded my colleagues that we have to make it clear that even if they produce a new bill that only takes insurance from 15 million people that's still an epic disaster for the country," he said. "They put out a bill that was so inhumane that they can potentially come up with a new bill that is still a debacle and call it a win."