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WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats plan to ramp up opposition Monday to the emerging Republican health-care bill with a series of mostly symbolic moves including speeches that will go late into the evening and a push to slow other Senate business to a crawl.
The aim, Democrats said, is to draw attention to the secretive process Republican leaders are using to craft their bill and argue that the GOP proposals would hurt Americans. The Democrats lack the power to prevent a vote and they don't have the numbers to defeat a bill without Republican defections. So they are focusing this week on nonbinding protests.
The initiative comes amid a broader push by allied advocacy groups to try to pressure Republican senators not to vote for the bill, which aims to repeal and replace key parts of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., can only afford to lose two Republican votes.
It also comes on the eve of a closely watched special election in Georgia's 6th Congressional District, which Republicans are trying to hold. A Democratic victory could jolt the debate by raising new questions about President DonaldTrump and the Republican agenda, in which health care is playing a feature role.
Senate Democrats plan to talk about health care in speeches on the Senate floor extending late into Monday evening, according to a senior Democratic Senate aide familiar with the plans. They also plan to call for committee hearings and to try to delay a potential vote on amendments to the bill, said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe strategy.
Democrats also plan to start objecting to all unanimous consent requests in the Senate, which are typically made to approve noncontroversial items, though they might make some exceptions.
"These are merely the first steps we're prepared to take in order to shine a light on this shameful Trumpcare bill and reveal to the public the GOP's true intentions," said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., in a statement.
McConnell is trying to complete work on the bill and bring it to the Senate floor next week. But stark disagreements over the direction the legislation should go - and how it should differ from a bill that passed the GOP-controlled House in May - threaten to derail those plans.
Republicans say they are working toward a goal of lowering insurance premiums for Americans. But the specifics in their bill have been closely guarded. McConnell and a small clutch of aides are crafting the bill as he consults GOP senators. Most of them say they don't know what shape the bill is taking and some have complained about the tightly controlled effort.
Community Catalyst Action Fund, an organization that opposes the GOP effort, kicked off an advertising campaign Monday pressuring five Republican senators not to vote for the legislation.
The group is spending $1.5 million targeting the lawmakers with ads that include a TV commercial that begins with the scene of a young boy wheezing in his bedroom and his mother rushing to get his asthma medication.
"When this happens, she isn't thinking about the health-care bill in Congress," the narrator says. "She isn't thinking that it'll force her to choose between filling his prescriptions or paying their mortgage."
The organization, which bills itself as a consumer health group, is targeting Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.
All except Collins come from states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare. McConnell has proposed a three-year phase out of the expansion. Some Republicans, including Capito, have pushed for a more gradual seven-year rollback.
Other organizations have been waging efforts to oppose the Senate GOP push. Last week, a coalition of medical and consumer groups held an event in Cleveland that was billed as the first of a series of gatherings to speak out against the House bill and the direction that Republican senators appear to be heading.
The coalition - which includes AARP, two hospital associations and four disease-fighting organizations - has said it will convene events in at least three other states in coming weeks, with the next one Wednesday in Reno, Nevada.
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The Washington Post's Amy Goldstein contributed to this report.
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