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Health Care Backlash With a Side of Charlottesville Outrage at GOP Town Halls

Constituents ask senators to push Trump to fire Bannon, other aides

Sen. Cory Gardner said he wouldn't ask President Donald Trump to fire Steve Bannon. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Cory Gardner said he wouldn't ask President Donald Trump to fire Steve Bannon. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Coloradans pressed Sen. Cory Gardner on health care during the Republican’s first solo, in-person town hall in more than a year.

Gardner wasn’t the only Republican senator who faced angry constituents this week, as Sen. Johnny Isakson held a contentious town hall in Georgia on Monday. The two Republicans heard a similar tune from their respective crowds, as people voiced concerns over healthcare.

While each attendee at Gardner’s Tuesday morning event had a green “Agree” sign and a red “Disagree” sign to wave, the preferred choice of dissent quickly became loud boos that muffled Gardner’s answers.

A moderator asked the crowd to quiet down several times to allow the senator to speak.

When an emergency room nurse told Gardner the U.S. should shift to a single payer health care system, the crowd erupted in cheers. The nurse pointed to the Veterans Administration health system as a model to move toward.

“I oppose socialized medicine,” Gardner said before boos broke out in the crowd.

“Veterans do have a government-run health care system,” he said. “That’s why we had to pass the Veteran’s Choice Act because they weren’t getting the care and service they were promised by the federal government.”

Gardner also pointed to the ballot measure that Coloradans rejected in 2016 that would have provided medical coverage to all state residents through a payroll tax. About 80 percent of the state voted against it.

The conversation soon shifted to the environment when a woman with 350 Colorado, a grassroots movement dedicated to addressing climate change, asked the senator about a plan to expand coal mining in the state. She said she opposed the plan, which would allow coal to be mined in Gunnison National Forest.

Pointing to a child standing with her, the woman said, “This is why I’m here — for them, because I want them to have clean air and water.”

There was little opposition to Gardner’s initial response.

“I want nothing more for them than to have a brighter, better future, clean air, and clean environment,” the senator said.

As he continued, Gardner lost the crowd’s approval.

“I do believe that we have to have an all of the above energy policy,” Gardner said as boos started. “I do believe that we have to have coal.”

Taking place at Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs, the town hall was the first in a series of three events Tuesday for Gardner.

Toward the event of the event, the father of a man killed in the Aurora movie theater shooting rose to speak. Tom Sullivan asked Gardner to push President Donald J. Trump to fire advisers such as chief strategist Steve Bannon. The question prompted a standing ovation.

“I’m not going to ask the president to fire somebody,” Gardner responded. Instead, the senator said he would continue to stand up to the president when he disagreed with him.

One woman thanked Gardner for his response to the Charlottesville violence. The senator responded to Trump’s tweet on Saturday, calling on the president to “call evil by its name.”

The woman said she “saw a different Cory Gardner and I loved it.”

Gardner’s rhetoric on the Charlottesville violence was stronger by his second town hall in Greeley.

“Why we have a 20 year old neo-Nazi in this country today, I do not know,” Gardner said. “We have to stand up and fight that ideology and never let it happen again.”

But when asked what specifically he could do, he added he didn’t “know that a particular bill will wipe out that hate.”

Meanwhile, Isakson faced 600 constituents Monday at a town hall meeting on Kennesaw State University’s campus, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The event focused on similar issues to Gardner’s, including health care, which prompted boos from the crowd over the Georgia Republican’s support of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

“I don’t have to do this. I’m not up for election,” Isakson said at one point during the event. “But I do it because it’s your government, not mine.”

Like Gardner, Isakson received a question asking him to push Trump to fire Bannon and other aides from the White House. Isakson tried to answer with “No, but” before the audience started yelling.

“All you have to do is check the record and see how many times I’ve risked my career for standing up the right thing,” the senator said.

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