Town Hall Briefing: Congressional Town Hall: Of Tums, Death Panels and ‘Shut Your Hole’

by admin February 22, 2017 at 1:05 am

It was not a happy crowd. “Liar,” people shouted. “Boo.”

“Let him speak,” said someone in the crowd. “We have to be respectful.”

There was little that Mr. Ross could or would say to placate this crowd of mostly Democrats who packed the room here in this small, rural Central Florida town that was known for its plentiful citrus fields not so long ago.

A few supporters of Mr. Ross walked out, saying they were upset that he was unable to talk without catcalls. But many more stayed to make sure Mr. Ross heard their messages: keep the Affordable Care Act, fight climate change, stop deporting undocumented workers and support the Environmental Protection Agency.

Video

Florida Townhall

We are in Clermont, Fl., about 20 miles west of Orlando, where Rep. Dennis Ross is holding a town hall with his constituents. Voters around the country have been pouring into town halls to talk about some of their grievances. Lizette Alvarez, NYT reporter, is talking with them now. Post your questions in the comments, and she’ll ask some.


Publish Date February 21, 2017.


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“This is democracy in action,” said Mr. Ross, before the crowd got grew incensed. “There are a lot of people who want to participate in the dialogue. I only ask that you give them that respect and civility.”

Mr. Ross shouted patiently into the microphone. He was for saving Social Security and Medicare. He wants a strong defense. And — in one of the few lines that earned him applause — he said he wanted to reduce the cost of flood insurance.

But there was little common ground here. The vast majority of those in the room — some who were part of the group Indivisible East Hillsborough and other protest organizations — wanted him to hear their fears and concerns, and few issues went unmentioned.

First on the agenda was discussion of the Affordable Care Act. Speaker after speaker talked about the need to cover pre-existing conditions and worries that they will lose their insurance.

“Only one solution to our health care problems,” one man said into the microphone to thunderous applause. “And that’s universal health care coverage.”

But Mr. Ross made clear his position early on: “We will do a repeal and replace of Obamacare.”

“What’s the plan?” they shouted. “What’s the plan?”

“If you will be quiet for three minutes, I will give you some sneak previews,” Mr. Ross replied.

“Even if it has some issues,” said Colter Roche, 20, one of the few young people in the crowd, “the damage that would be done by repealing it entirely would be tragic. I wouldn’t be able to afford health insurance. I have asthma, allergies.”

Known as one of the most conservative Republicans in his state’s congressional delegation, Mr. Ross is popular in his district, winning handily in 2016. First elected in 2010 as part of the Tea Party wave that challenged the political establishment and has fought to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Ross is now trying to carry out that promise. He has also embraced another Trump initiative: securing the nation’s borders.

Few Florida Republicans are as enthusiastic about Mr. Trump’s election as Mr. Ross. He has spoken at several of Mr. Trump’s rallies, including one last week, and flew on Air Force One with the president to Washington from Tampa recently.

In Iowa, being questioned ‘like a machine gun’

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Chris Petersen of Clear Lake, Iowa. He is a pig farmer and a Democrat who offered Mr. Grassley, a Republican, a bottle of Tums antacid.

Credit
Scott Morgan for The New York Times

In Garner, Iowa, people chanted at the outset of a meeting with Mr. Grassley in an unsuccessful bid to move the forum outside. Speaking to reporters afterward, the senator suggested the heat he faced on Tuesday — at two packed town hall-style meetings — was the result of organization by people who were on the losing end of the presidency, aided by social media.

“But I want to make clear it’s all legitimate,” he said. “If Hillary Clinton had been elected president, there’d be people from the conservative end of the spectrum to probably be doing the same thing.”

Mr. Grassley also got an earful from Iowans during meetings in 2009 when he was working with Democrats on a health care overhaul. He said his second meeting on Tuesday was “kind of calm compared to 2009.”

Mr. Grassley acknowledged the difficulty of being questioned at a town hall. “It comes at you like a machine gun,” he said. “You can’t keep up with it.”

Earlier, in Iowa Falls, Chris Petersen, 62, a pig farmer and proud progressive Democrat, brought a present for Mr. Grassley: a bottle of Tums.

“You’re going to need ’em the next few years,” Mr. Petersen told the senator, drawing laughter from the crowd that packed into a room at a firehouse in Iowa Falls, north of Des Moines.

It was a spirited meeting, considering it was scheduled for 7:45 a.m. in rural county that voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Trump. At times, the mantra of “Iowa Nice” was put to the test.

“Shut your hole!” a man yelled at a woman at one point.

Mr. Petersen gave a stern warning about the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, telling the senator he was a diabetic who would not be able to afford insurance if not for the health care law.

“With all due respect, sir, you’re the man that talked about the death panel,” Mr. Petersen told him. “You’re going to create one great big death panel in this country.”

Video

Town Hall: Iowa

Join us before Senator Chuck Grassley, a republican Senator from Iowa, kicks off a town hall. Grassley and other lawmakers are currently on recess and have returned home to talk to constituents. Leave you questions in the comments, and NYT reporter Thomas Kaplan will ask some.


Publish Date February 21, 2017.


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Mr. Grassley also heard from a man who said he had worked as an interpreter in Afghanistan and was trying to get asylum in the United States. Mr. Grassley said he would try to help the man and also said that Mr. Trump’s executive order on immigration “wasn’t carefully drafted.”

Mr. Grassley prides himself on spending time with the people of Iowa, visiting all 99 of the state’s counties each year.

That tradition is so central to his persona that it has its own term — it’s called a “full Grassley” (though its fullness has been disputed).

After the town hall-style meeting, Mr. Petersen noted that Mr. Grassley had not taken the bottle of Tums.

“The only time I need Tums,” Mr. Grassley told reporters, “is when I have chocolate ice cream before I go to bed.”

Flood relief concerns surge for Louisiana senator

It was a quieter day for Senator Bill Cassidy. Appearing before a few hundred residents in a local high school cafeteria after the students had spilled out into a warm Louisiana afternoon, Mr. Cassidy, a Republican, spoke to anxious residents mostly about their more pressing concern: flood relief.

Scattered piles of debris still dot the landscape between vibrant pink and purple azaleas in Denham Springs, which sustained catastrophic flooding six months ago. The area, Livingston Parish, received more than 25 inches of rain in three days, overwhelming the rivers and devastating the city. The flooding killed 13 people and caused billions of dollars in damage.

The local Capital One Bank branch, just down the road, greets visitors to its temporary quarters — a trailer propped like a set piece in front of its damaged offices — with signs that say, “Nice to see you again.”

Charlie and Sandra Murry do not have much time to think about politics these days. Asked about chatter on health care or immigration, they exchanged glances. They spend most of their time working on their house, Mrs. Murry said, which filled with more than three feet of muddy water during the flood.

“We’re trying to get back in our house,” Mr. Murry said.

Out of respect for those working to rebuild their lives, protesters granted Mr. Cassidy a reprieve for the afternoon.

Yet some constituents still showed up with tough questions. As Mr. Cassidy answered queries submitted on slips of paper, a woman asked if he would take questions from the floor, saying she worried they were screening them. As if to prove that they were not, Mr. Cassidy read aloud a question about Mr. Trump’s tax returns, eliciting applause and cheers from many of those assembled.

“Looks like we have some folks who don’t like Donald Trump,” he said, to more cheers. “A lot of us do.”

Mr. Cassidy said Mr. Trump should release the tax returns — “I’m for transparency,” he said — though he conceded that it is complicated.

Mr. Cassidy should not get too comfortable, protest organizers said Tuesday: More than 1,100 people had already responded via Facebook for his meeting on Wednesday, booked at a library with space for just a couple hundred — many of them associated with local branches of the group Indivisible and Planned Parenthood.

Is there real sentiment to repeal the Affordable Care Act in Tennessee?

A staunch foe of the Affordable Care Act, Representative Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee got a surprise result last month when she conducted an unscientific poll on Twitter, asking, “Do you support the repeal of Obamacare?” and the results were overwhelmingly opposed to repeal.

Tennessee’s Seventh Congressional District, which Ms. Blackburn has held since 2003, is a safe Republican seat. Williamson County, the site of the meeting and of Ms. Blackburn’s home, is the wealthiest county in Tennessee.

The city of Fairview, Tenn., where the meeting will be held, voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Trump: 69 percent, versus 24 percent for Hillary Clinton.

Most of the seats at the sold-out gathering were reserved for town residents, which a group calling itself Marsha Blackburn Must Go says was done to ensure a friendly audience. The group is rallying critics via Facebook to show up outside with protest signs.

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