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GOP members of Congress meet with protests at town halls

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Cleone Hermsen, of Carroll, Iowa, expresses her criticism while listening to Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, during a veterans roundtable event at Maquoketa City Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, in Maquoketa, Iowa.

FAIRVIEW, Tenn. >> Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn returned to her district Tuesday in Tennessee and was greeted by tough questions on topics from health care reform to President Donald Trump’s cabinet appointees. She also was met with protests.

While 100 people crammed into her town hall gathering about 30 miles from Nashville, another 100 people outside chanted about immigrant rights, Planned Parenthood and other topics in protest against the congresswoman and the president.

Blackburn’s town hall was among several protests lobbed at GOP members of Congress returning home this week on break to their districts around the U.S. Now many Republican lawmakers are opting against holding public town halls, instead organizing conference calls or meeting privately.

The crowd inside Blackburn’s event held up signs that said “agree” and “disagree,” and at times yelled out “alternative facts” and “shame on you for lying” after Blackburn’s responses.

“I have always said, you may not agree with me, but you’re always going to know where I stand,” Blackburn told the protesters outside Fairview City Hall afterward. “Having a good, solid, respectful debate, that is something that serves our country well.”

A month into Trump’s presidency, protests continue over his immigration policies, Cabinet selections and the GOP’s push to repeal the Affordable Care Act, without all the specifics on how to replace it. At the town halls, protesters are probing their lawmakers to see if they will veer from some of Trump’s more controversial decisions, and if they will promise coverage for those currently served by the Affordable Care Act.

Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday to address the town halls.

“The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!” he tweeted.

In two small Iowa towns, overflow crowds similarly lobbed questions Tuesday at Republican Sens. Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst.

About 18,000 callers participated in a telephone town hall with suburban Chicago Rep. Peter Roskam, who has been criticized for canceling smaller in-person meetings and declining debates.

Protesters booed in Montana when Sen. Steve Daines canceled his speech to state lawmakers. And at a protest town hall in Allentown, Pennsylvania, home of Sen. Pat Toomey, the protest group called Tuesdays with Toomey hung an empty suit in place of the senator.

Similarly, a liberal group in Maine is holding its own town halls against GOP Sen. Susan Collins.

Also Tuesday, the most powerful member of the U.S. Senate faced jeers from nearly 1,000 as he arrived to address a group of local business leaders. In Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, they chanted as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell entered the American Legion Post 34 Fairgrounds in a black limousine.

McConnell said he was “proud” of the demonstrators for expressing their views but told the mostly friendly audience inside that the protesters “had their shot,” adding: “Winners make policy and the losers go home.”

Sandra Brown, 45, said politics shouldn’t matter as Congress moves to replace the health care law. She spoke at the Tennessee town hall about how the Affordable Care Act helped cover her pre-existing condition.

Blackburn said the plan for efforts to repeal and replace the law includes maintaining coverage of pre-existing conditions and young adults on their parents’ plans.

“Whatever they do, it needs to be affordable for everybody,” Brown said after the Tennessee town hall. “Because even the people that voted for a Republican, they’re not going to be very happy if they’ve been promised they’re going to repeal this Affordable Care Act and then they replace it with a garbage policy. They’re going to be affected as well.”

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