Last week, Gillibrand joined with her fellow Democrats and three Republicans to vote down the repeal bill. According to the senator, the Republican legislation would have raised healthcare costs in New York by 30 percent and resulted in 15 million fewer people with healthcare nationwide.
“We were able to defeat that horrible Senate Republican healthcare bill,” she said. “It truly was horrible.”
Gillibrand attributed the defeat of the Obamacare repeal effort to the outreach and activism of everyday Americans speaking out against it.
“The reason why we were able to prevail this week was because of all of you,” she said at the town hall. “The grassroots is changing the face of democracy.”
Congresswoman Meng also thanked her constituents for making their opinions heard.
“It really heartens me everyday to know that you have had our backs,” she said. “On so many issues, we have witnessed your efforts, how far and how hard our Queens residents and fellow Americans have had to fight.”
Gillibrand warned that Senate Republicans will not give up on trying to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. She urged Queens residents to keep up the fight.
“Please don’t stop,” she said. “The battle is not over.”
Several members of the standing room-only audience in the auditorium asked Gillibrand questions about national issues, including immigration, making higher education more affordable and criminal justice reform.
On the issue of cyberattacks and voting reform, Gillibrand said she’s pushing a bill, co-sponsored with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, to create a “9/11-style commission to do a deep dive” on how the American election was penetrated by cyber attacks, where they are vulnerable, and steps to protect against vulnerabilities.
She said she hopes to get legislation passed in the next few months so states are ready for the 2018 midterm elections.
Meng also said she’s proposing legislation for voting reforms, including possibly making Election Day a national holiday and making voter registration automatic for everyone who is eligible.
One audience member asked Gillibrand about her support for the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, a proposed bill that targets the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Opponents of the bill, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have argued that the bill would attempt to curtail free speech.
Violators would face a civil penalty of $250,000, a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison, according to the ACLU.
Gillibrand said she “did not read the bill the way you read it.”
“I would never support anything that chills free speech,” she said. “It’s not something I would support.”
After meeting with the ACLU, she determined that the bill’s language is “ambiguous.” The New York senator said she will urge the authors of the bill to clarify the language to ensure free speech is protected.
“I will not support it in its current form,” she said.
Meng is also a supporter of the bill in the House. She said there may be “some misunderstandings” about the legislation, but she wouldn’t support any bill that limits free speech either.
Gillibrand added that the point of the original bill they’re amending, the Export Administration Act of 1979, was to ensure that foreign countries don’t interfere with American foreign policy by imposing boycotts on allies.
According to Meng, the new legislation would just add international organizations to existing law.
“I’m against BDS,” Gillibrand said, “but I think people who are for it should feel comfortable speaking at any stage anywhere.”
Before wrapping up the town hall, one community member asked Gillibrand about her position on the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC), a breakaway group of eight Democratic state senators who have a power-sharing agreement with Republicans.
He argued that as long as the IDC exists, a “host of progressive legislation” will sit in limbo and won’t move forward.
“My view is very simple, I don’t support the IDC,” Gillibrand said to applause in the audience. “This state elected a Democratic Senate, and we should have a Democratic Senate.”