Former Vice President Joe Biden visited with three families Thursday in a closed meeting in Lancaster city to discuss how the Affordable Care Act has helped them, as the Trump Administration petitions the Supreme Court to invalidate it.
Biden met with the families, not all of whom are Lancaster natives, in a courtyard at Lancaster Recreation Center, 525 Fairview St., while both protesters and supporters gathered outside.
This was the Scranton native and former Delaware senator’s fourth visit to the battleground Pennsylvania in the last month to discuss the health care law. He made two previous stops in Philadelphia and one in city suburb Darby. Biden is leading in several state polls, including a New York Times/Siena College poll released Thursday that has Biden leading by 10 points in Pennsylvania and 11 points in Wisconsin.
Lancaster County is a longtime Republican stronghold, and only a handful of Democratic presidential candidates have made campaign stops in the county since former President John F. Kennedy in 1960.
Lancaster city -- and its diverse population -- has long stood apart from the rest of the county as a Democratic bastion. It’s also been coined the “refugee capital of the world,” according to a 2017 BCC report.
Democrats have gained nearly 42,000 registered voters since 2000, while Republicans have gained only 2,500 voters to their majority of 166,279 voters, according to state Department of State data from November.
It could become an even split between Republicans and Democrats in the next 20 years, an LNP | LancasterOnline found last month.In 2000, the county's electorate was 61.6% Republican and 25.2% Democrat. Twenty years later, that 36.4-point gap has been slashed to 17.8, with Republicans losing ground and Dems gaining: 50.9% Republican to 33.1% Democrat. (About 16% of county voters are third party or nonaffiliated, up from 13.2% in 2000.)
Lancaster city Council President Ismail Smith-Wade-El said the specific issue Biden came to speak about -- health care -- was a top issue for the city even before the COVID-19 pandemic.l Health care access has been a top issue for the city, which has a 26.5% poverty rate, he said.
'The ACA isn't perfect'
During the meeting, Biden said he remembered one of the attendees: Stacie Ritter, a Manheim mother of four who has several children with pre-existing conditions -- including cancer -- that sent her family into bankruptcy.
Ritter made it a point during the meeting to call the landmark law by its full name -- the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, according to pool reports. The act, an expansion of health care access, passed in 2010.
After meeting with Biden, she said the patient protection portion of the law is the “lynchpin” of the law, because everyone benefits from it.
“Even though the ACA isn’t perfect, if it’s still in place we’ll have the ability to amend it and morph it into something more all-consuming and good,” said her 22-year-old son, Jan Ritter.
Ritter was in an advertisement for U.S. Sen. Bob Casey in 2018 that got pulled from Scranton TV markets after former Rep. Lou Barletta called it cruel to his family. In the ad, Ritter talks about her twin daughters, who were diagnosed with a rare cancer in early childhood. The ad came out shortly after Barletta told Casey in confidence that his 18-month-old grandson was undergoing chemotherapy for abdominal sarcoma.
Melissa Reed, a spokesperson for President Donald Trump's reelection campaign said in a statement following Biden's remarks that "Pennsylvanians haven't forgotten that healthcare premiums skyrocketed" under the Affordable Care Act.
"Meanwhile, President Trump has lowered prescription costs and is expanding affordable options for all," she added.
Meanwhile, outside of the recreation center, two groups of protesters – one side made up of Black Lives Matter demonstrators and the other supporters of President Donald Trump – showed up in crowds, with signs and chants.
A tractor-trailer with the faces of the president and Vice President Mike Pence that said “Re-Elect President Trump – Pence 2020” pulled into the street dividing the two lines of protesters.
Yaima Lopez, 31, or Lancaster City, said she is involved with Black Lives Matter movement to achieve systemic change.
“I love protesting, but it’s not just that,” she said. “It’s getting into rooms and speaking with the mayor, chief of police, the commissioner and really trying to get these laws changed so it’s equal for everyone and it’s not built to destroy the Black and Brown community.”
Hurubie Meko contributed reporting.