At Town Halls, More Crowds Face Off Against Republican Lawmakers

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Matthew Schoenberger, of New Orleans, shouts a question at Republican senator Bill Cassidy during a town hall meeting in Metairie, Louisiana, on February 22, 2017. Photo: Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

Republican lawmakers brave enough to go home and face constituents in their districts got rewarded with huge turnouts — and some raucous crowds. Angry constituents packed venues to capacity. They shouted, cheered, brought signs. They even dressed up.

President Donald Trump claimed that the protests were “planned out” by liberal activists, and while groups such as Indivisible are helping to rally people to attend these meetings, the crowds who turned out asked serious questions about the Affordable Care Act, immigration, and whether anyone in Congress was going to investigate Trump. Here are some highlights from Wednesday night:

A crowd of about 2,000 filled the high-school auditorium in Springdale, Arkansas, for Senator Tom Cotton’s town hall. Cotton, an immigration hard-liner, got an earful from the crowd, who chanted “Do your job” and “Tax return.”

Questions about the Affordable Care Act headlined the event. One woman, a 25-year-old constituent, challenged Tom Cotton on whether coverage for preexisting conditions would be available under a new health-care law.

Cotton tried to deflect the question, but the woman — who said she relied on Obamacare for coverage, as she suffered from a rare disorder — refused to let the senator off the hook:

Cotton improved a bit in an exchange with another attendee, Mary Story, who drew large cheers when she stood up and announced that she was not a paid protester. “I don’t care if anybody here is paid or not. You’re all Arkansans,” Cotton said. “Thank you for everyone coming out.”

Immigration, Trump’s taxes, and the border wall also came up. A 7-year-old protested PBS cuts. The barrage of questions forced Cotton to extend the town hall about a half-hour.

Louisiana senator Bill Cassidy inadvertently warmed up the crowd by showing up late to his town hall meeting at a library in Metairie, outside of New Orleans.

It took a little more than 20 minutes, but Cassidy finally showed up. Protesters, unable to fit inside, marched as he began his presentation, which stayed contentious throughout.

Cassidy had hosted a town hall Tuesday, but it focused on recovery from Baton Rouge’s devastating floods this summer. Here, the Affordable Care Act dominated, with one man getting ejected for trying to shout over the senator.

Cassidy hosted another town hall Thursday, which appeared to be a bit calmer than last’s night forum.

Nearly 1,000 lined up for Republican representative Tom Emmer’s town hall in Sartell, Minnesota — but only 150 fit inside the small venue. It likely beat the attendance record of all of the congressman’s other town halls combined, and even with the largely anti-Trump turnout, was a mostly civil affair. Or as the Star Tribune put it: “Minnesota Nice.” (The congressman’s staff had also warned ahead of time that he would leave if things got too out of hand.)

The most heated exchanges came over the Affordable Care Act, which Emmer lambasted as a “disaster.”

“All the Minnesotans I know, they don’t look at it as being Republican or Democrat,” Emmer said about health-care repeal. “They want to make sure that you survive, that you thrive, just like everybody else.”

“Do your job!” a crowd of about 900 jeered at New Jersey representative Leonard Lance Wednesday night at Raritan Community College in Branchburg. Hundreds more packed an overflow room. Hundreds more protested outside the venue. So did some llamas:

According to the Washington Post, Russia questions dominated this town hall, an issue on which Lance is pretty hawkish. “My views are that Russia is not a friend of the United States, and that Vladimir Putin has been a bad actor on the world stage,” Lance assured the audience.

People react in agreement to a question posed to New Jersey Republican congressman Leonard Lance during a town hall meeting at Raritan Valley Community College on February 22, 2017 in Branchburg, New Jersey. Photo: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AFP/Getty Images

But Lance skirted the question about Trump’s tax returns, saying he “urges” the president to do so, but didn’t feel Congress should overreach in investigating the returns of a “private individual.” The crowd did not like that one:

Constituents whose congressional reps are conspicuously not holding town hall meetings are planning their own “empty chair” forums, posting missing flyers (or billboards) and, in the case of one California district, pasting a representative’s face on milk cartons:

At Town Halls, Crowds Face Off Against Republican Lawmakers