Many questions directed to Republicans are about Obamacare
People express concerns about the Trump administration and policies
Faced with chants of “Do your job,” Republican lawmakers have been flustered by rowdy town hall meetings in their home turf over the past few weeks.
Using tactics similar to the tea party that roiled Democrats during the Obama years, attendees flooded town halls in largely conservative districts to ask pointed questions to longtime Republicans about their support for President Donald Trump and his policies.
Some Republicans have dismissed the wave of contentious town halls as merely angry voices of paid protesters. White House press secretary Sean Spicer called them, “a very paid, AstroTurf-type movement.”
Nevertheless, crowds have stood in long, snaking lines hours before the events for a chance to pressure their representatives.
They have focused on Trump’s policies on health care, ties with Russia, his tax returns, stance on immigration and refugees. Through a series of raucous gatherings, the following demands have emerged from the crowds:
1. They want answers on health care
Since Trump’s inauguration, fired-up constituents who oppose the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act have aggressively confronted congressional Republicans. Some of the most personal exchanges have come from people who are worried changes to the act will cut their health care coverage.
“I have to have coverage to make sure I don’t die,” said Mike Carlson, a 32-year-old student, at a Tennessee town hall earlier this month. “There are people now who have cancer that have that coverage, that have to have that coverage to make sure they don’t die.
“And you want to take away this coverage – and have nothing to replace it with! How can I trust you to do anything that’s in our interest at all?”
When it has appeared the lawmakers are ducking the question – protesters have turned to screaming “ACA! ACA!”
Many want to know if Republicans repeal Obamacare, what will replace it.
“All we hear is repeal and replace, but we don’t hear about a real clear plan,” one man told Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst.
Progressives have banked on the town halls during the congressional recess to pressure Republicans to break from Trump and back away from their pledge to repeal the health care law.
Meanwhile, two surveys released this week indicate that support for Obamacare has risen to an all-time high.
But the crowds aren’t entirely pro-Obamacare, as some have come out to speak in support of repealing the law.
2. They want to know if Republicans will hold Trump accountable
Even in deeply red states, Republican lawmakers have received a barrage of questions over their views on the President and whether they’re going to hold him accountable.
This issue has largely dogged Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who was caught off-guard in his deep-red Utah two weeks ago.
Crowds fuming with resentment over Trump have accused Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, of coddling the President. He’s been criticized for not using his position to properly investigate Trump’s financial dealings and communications with Russia.
Hundreds of people waited outside his town hall chanting, “Chaffetz is a coward” in a district where he was just re-elected with a margin of victory of 47 percentage points.
Chaffetz said that attendees intended to “bully and intimidate” him.
3. They have concerns about Russia
Another popular topic is the one of Russia’s purported interference in the US elections and talks with Trump campaign officials.
Some have even accused Republicans of prioritizing their political party over the country on this issue. New Jersey Rep. Leonard Lance was told at a town hall, “I suggest now is the time to put country before party” to a standing ovation.
In Iowa this week, veteran Trinity Ray pressed Ernst to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia and alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 American election.
While saying Trump “needs to stand up against Vladimir Putin,” Ernst also defended the President. Her answer dissatisfied the veteran.
“If you were serious about this situation, you wouldn’t rest until you had an answer,” he said afterward. “We swore to defend against enemies domestic and foreign.”
Another veteran, Jeremy Hammett, attended a town hall in Louisiana. He wanted to know why Sen. Bill Cassidy didn’t have a public comment about the Russian involvement.
“I’m a lifelong resident. I spilled blood for the state and the senator doesn’t want to answer my questions,” he told CNN affiliate WVUE.
4. They want Trump to release his tax returns
Republican lawmakers have been questioned, booed and heckled by constituents pushing their representatives to get the President’s tax returns.
Crowds erupted when Chaffetz was asked why his panel spent months investigating Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s emails, but has not looked into Trump’s taxes.
Rep. Tom Reed of New York, who along with all other Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee last week turned away a Democratic effort to get the committee chairman to use his legal authority to obtain the returns, explained his position to voters.
“The reason why we voted against that is because if the government goes on an attack on one individual, that is a very dangerous level of power,” Reed said. “We make sure the government is held in check.”
Reed’s answers were met with loud boos, and chants of “Do your job!” “What are you covering up?” and “Russia! Russia! Russia!”
Under increasing scrutiny from their constituents, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican, surprised a roomful of angry protesters when he called for Trump to release his tax returns. He stopped short of saying Congress should subpoena those returns.
5. They question Trump’s refugee and immigration policies
Another contentious topic centers on the President’s policies on immigrants and Muslims, spanning from the travel ban, deportation priorities and the wall with Mexico.
At one town hall, a Muslim immigrant raised his concerns with Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley.
Zalmay Niazy, an Afghan man who worked as a translator along with the US armed forces, asked: “I am a person from a Muslim country and I am a Muslim. Who is going to save me here? Who is going to stand behind me?”
The audience cheered as Niazy recounted how he had been shot twice and experienced a roadside bombing while working with US forces.
Grassley offered to have his office help Niazy with his immigration status. His office also said Trump’s executive order on immigration “wasn’t carefully drafted.”
A hot topic also concerns the wall with Mexico.
Arizona Republican Rep. Martha McSally diverged from the President, saying she wasn’t sold on his plan to build a border wall.
“Not a continuous, 2,000-mile border wall, no,” she said, adding that enhanced technology and, in some places, more barriers may be necessary.
6. They have more concerns about the administration
Republican lawmakers have been repeatedly asked whether they agree with the President’s policies and appointments.
Questions from constituents run the gamut, from funding for PBS, climate change, the future of the Environmental Protection Agency and concerns about Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, to the qualifications of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
CNN’s Tom LoBianco, Eric Bradner, Eli Watkins, MJ Lee, contributed to this report.