GOP faces hos­tile crowds at town halls on health care

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

AURORA, COLORADO | For some­one who had just braved nearly two hours of boo­ing, shout­ing and heck­ling from an au­di­ence of rowdy Oba­macare fans, Rep. Mike Coff­man was tak­ing it rather well.

“I think it went pretty good,” the Repub­li­can told KOA-AM’s St­ef­fan Tubbs af­ter the packed Wed­nes­day night town hall at the Univer­sity of Colorado satel­lite cam­pus here.

“The fact is that peo­ple are con­cerned about the changes over health care,” Mr. Coff­man said. “They vented their anger, they were clearly un­happy with [Pres­i­dent] Trump, but I think it was a very good ex­change.”

Some Repub­li­cans have stopped hold­ing pub­lic fo­rums, opt­ing in­stead to hold tele­phone town halls, af­ter be­ing blind­sided ear­lier this year by an­gry crowds fu­ri­ous over the Novem­ber elec­tion re­sults. But oth­ers have em­braced the chaos.

“It’s part of the job,” said Rep. Ted S. Yoho, Florida Repub­li­can and a town hall war­rior who al­ready has held four events over the con­gres­sional re­cess that be­gan April 8. “Like Harry Tru­man said, ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.’”

Take Rep. Tom McClin­tock, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can, who has ap­par­ently never met a town hall he didn’t like. The staunch con­ser­va­tive has earned brag­ging rights this year for hold­ing mul­ti­ple pub­lic events, in­clud­ing a fo­rum in Fe­bru­ary that grew so rau­cous that he had to be es­corted out by po­lice.

There’s a method to his mad­ness. Those videos posted on­line show­ing him stand­ing alone as he de­fends his po­si­tions against un­ruly crowds may en­er­gize the left, but to the other view­ers, Mr. McClin­tock isn’t the one who looks like the rad­i­cal ex­trem­ist.

“It has been very nasty. What we’re see­ing is the rad­i­cal left on full dis­play, the ap­palling lack of ci­vil­ity, the in­tol­er­ance for any dis­sent­ing view­points and the ab­ject dou­ble stan­dard,” Mr. McClin­tock told Fox News af­ter a con­tentious April 8 town hall in Loomis.

“But this doesn’t hap­pen in a vac­uum,” he said. “I think the broader com­mu­nity is watch­ing this and form­ing an opin­ion on it.”

At least one of those be­hind the re­sis­tance says he’s onto Mr. McClin­tock’s strat­egy. Paul Smith, founder of the lo­cal In­di­vis­i­ble chap­ter, blasted the con­gress­man for at­tend­ing town halls and say­ing “provoca­tive things that will en­rage con­stituents,” then hav­ing the clips shown on con­ser­va­tive me­dia out­lets.

“I hate to break it to you, but it’s not go­ing to work,” said Mr. Smith in a Wed­nes­day open let­ter, in­sist­ing that, “This is a main­stream up­ris­ing.”

Rep. Doug Lam­born, Colorado Repub­li­can, drew taunts at a Wed­nes­day town hall from an over­flow crowd, in­clud­ing ac­tivists with Colorado Ac­tion Now, but the jeer­ing didn’t stop him from ap­pear­ing at two more pub­lic events on Thurs­day.

“My view has al­ways been that good pol­icy is good pol­i­tics,” Mr. Lam­born told Fox21. “If you do the job you were elected to do, if you carry out the prom­ises that you prom­ise to keep, then you can let the chips fall where they will.”

At a Mon­day event in Gainesville, Mr. Yoho was re­peat­edly in­ter­rupted and shouted down by a crowd he de­scribed as the most un­ruly in his ten­ure, which is say­ing some­thing con­sid­er­ing that a man was ar­rested out­side his March 4 town hall for punch­ing another man in the face.

Even so, Mr. Yoho was back on the front lines Tues­day at a town hall in Palatka.

“Since the elec­tion, we’ve had a whole dif­fer­ent crowd,” said Mr. Yoho. “I ask peo­ple how many are here for their first town hall, and 80 [per­cent] to 90 per­cent raise their hands. And I say, that’s what I love about this elec­tion. You have so many peo­ple who are re­ally en­gaged.”

Repub­li­cans are also bet­ter pre­pared for the mayhem than they were at the start of the year, im­ple­ment­ing changes such as se­lect­ing speak­ers us­ing raf­fle tick­ets, bring­ing in mod­er­a­tors to over­see the dis­cus­sion, ban­ning large signs and hav­ing at­ten­dees pre-reg­is­ter on­line.

Mr. Coff­man ar­ranged for an au­di­to­rium that seats 800 af­ter he was blind­sided in Jan­uary by hun­dreds try­ing to cram into a li­brary venue un­equipped to han­dle the crowd. He was later crit­i­cized for leav­ing at the end of the meet­ing through a back­door.

This time Mr. Coff­man took ques­tions for nearly two hours, an hour longer than sched­uled, gamely field­ing dozens of hos­tile queries from an un­friendly crowd that re­peat­edly booed his op­po­si­tion to the Af­ford­able Care Act.

Mr. Tubbs mod­er­ated the Coff­man town hall, while Mr. Yoho in­vited his 2014 Demo­cratic op­po­nent, Mar­i­he­len Wheeler, to serve as mod­er­a­tor and read ques­tions from the au­di­ence at his March 4 event.

Protesters have also ad­justed their tac­tics. With the large-sign ban now com­mon, at­ten­dees at the Coff­man event passed out preprinted cards with thumbs-up and thumbs-down graph­ics.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

“The fact is that peo­ple are con­cerned about the changes over health care,” said Rep. Mike Coff­man of a rather heated town hall meet­ing.

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