"I hope I don't get skin cancer out here!" Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., exclaimed to the few hundred people assembled in front of the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon. "Can you imagine the line?"
He was talking about the Affordable Care Act. And the line was for healthcare. Crowd members laughed as they fanned themselves with folded "Exempt America" signs depicting the American flag. People were seated in collapsible chairs, some holding umbrellas to block the strong sun, as Paul railed against Obamacare to a committed and vocal crowd.
"Anyone here want to wait a year for their gall bladder to come out?" "No!"
"How about we defund the whole damn thing?" "Defund!"
The Exempt America From Obamacare rally was the latest attempt by tea-party groups and some lawmakers to reinvigorate their calls for Congress to reject a continuing resolution at the end of this month that would include funding for the health care law.
The plan to threaten a government shutdown over Obamacare is generally considered to have been a failure. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., announced a new strategy Tuesday that will involve House Republicans demanding a one-year delay to the law in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.
Yet the relatively small crowd at the rally was energized and committed to the cause, and event organizers and speakers remained optimistic. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a leading force in the defund-Obamacare movement, came to the stage to chants of "Run, Ted, Run!" from the crowd.
"If traditional rules of Washington apply, we can't win," Cruz said. "But I'm convinced the model has changed. There is a brand-new model in America, and that is the rise of the grassroots."
The cofounder of Tea Party Patriots, Jenny Beth Martin, was on a similar page. She said that the event — organized in collaboration with other tea-party organizations, including Heritage Action, FreedomWorks, Citizens United, and others — was about getting their message out to Congress and the public.
"We're not going away," Martin told National Journal Daily. "We never wanted [Obamacare] to be passed, and we'll continue to fight for freedom." Should Congress vote this week to keep funding the health care law in the continuing resolution, Martin said the fight will be far from over. "We'll continue having events, making phone calls to Congress, and recruiting new candidates."
The movement's local, grassroots approach was evident in the crowd. Bob Mason, 73, came on a bus from North Carolina. Dressed in royal-blue colonial attire and carrying a large American flag over his shoulder, Mason left his home at 9 p.m. Monday and was to return at 4 a.m. Wednesday. "[The law] is the worst thing that could happen to America," he said. "Obamacare is responsible for killing jobs."
Leaders maintain that the defunding movement is not losing steam, despite limited support from lawmakers and the public. "It's gonna be successful," said former presidential candidate Herman Cain, who spoke at the rally.
Other speakers included Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.; Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla.; and James Golden — the Rush Limbaugh talk-show producer and personality.