Rep. Bradley Byrne greeted by jeers during raucous town hall meeting
U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne addressed a host of issues ranging from health care to the environment before a mostly left-leaning audience Monday during a raucous town hall meeting in Mobile.
More than 250 people gathered inside a midtown Mobile community center while an additional 250 people were denied entry due to space constraints.
It was the latest in a string of town hall meetings throughout the country in which lawmakers have been confronted by big and sometimes angry crowds over President Donald Trump’s policies and cabinet appointments as well as worries about the GOP’s plans with repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.
For Byrne, it was his 76th town hall meeting since he was first elected to Congress in 2013.
It was, by far, the largest crowd he’s been before.
“I love to see all these people here, it’s great,” said Byrne, R-Fairhope, before the more than hour-long town hall meeting began. “We’re used to different opinions … this is for the people who live in the district.”
But the meeting took a quick turn toward potential ugliness when it was briefly interrupted during a spat between a conservative activist unaffiliated with the Byrne team and Mobile resident Todd Duren.
The confrontation occurred after a man, later identified by Byrne’s staff as Gene Talbott with Research Strategies Inc., interrupted a woman by making a derogatory remark about former President Barack Obama.
“He was basically cat-calling her,” said Duren, who got up and shouted at Talbott. “He told me to ‘shut up’ when I had a few things to say to him. I went over and approached him and it was not violent. I touched him on the shoulder and I didn’t mean for him to take that as aggressive.”
Talbott left the room to applause, but later came back with police officers in tow to confront Duren. Talbott left shortly thereafter.
“They just said I couldn’t put my hands (on anyone),” said Duren, who remained for the duration of the meeting. “I think he understands now that if he comes into a public meeting and cat calls speakers, there will be some consequences from the crowd.”
Byrne, meanwhile, did his part to calm a crowd that booed him at times and shouted “terrible answer” at him more than once.
It wasn’t all negative. Byrne was applauded after one woman suggested that she wished he had won the 2010 gubernatorial election over current Gov. Robert Bentley. Byrne was also thanked by several speakers for hosting the town hall meeting at a time when other Republicans around the country are opting not to do so.
Danny Clay of Dauphin Island addresses U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, during a town hall meeting on Monday, March 6, 2017, at the Via Health, Fitness and Enrichment Center in Mobile, Ala. (John Sharpfirstname.lastname@example.org).
Byrne’s town hall is the third held by an Alabama congressional lawmaker since Trump’s inauguration in January. Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Hoover, hosted what was described as a “cordial” town hall meeting on Feb. 25, and Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, hosted a public forum specific to the issue of health care.
“This is work for me,” said Byrne. “It works for me and it’s up to other congressmen to decide if it works for them.”
Repeal and replace
The congressman had plenty of issues to talk about.
Among the most pressing was health care, which Byrne is among the many GOP congressional lawmakers in support of repealing the 2010 Affordable Care Act and replacing it with revised version that has become a hallmark of the Republican-led Congress since the election.
Byrne defended the GOP’s recently released 123-page plan to replace what has long become known as “ObamaCare,” with a new law that places an emphasis on replacing income-based subsidies to help pay Americans premiums with age-based tax credits.
U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, speaks during a sometimes contentious town hall meeting on Monday, March 6, 2017, in Mobile, Ala. (John Sharpemail@example.com).
Byrne, before the town hall meeting started, told local reporters that he doesn’t believe the new plan will cause the approximately 28,000 people currently enrolled in the ACA within his district to “lose” coverage. But he doubts that more people will be covered under the new plan.
“It won’t pull the rug out from under people who have coverage now,” said Byrne. “Four percent of the people from my district or about 28,000 people are on ObamaCare and, at least, from the transition period, they won’t lose their coverage.”
The fate of the federally subsidized plan was among the reasons why Emily Bell of Fairhope showed up.
“If it’s repealed and not quickly replaced, it will certainly be very dangerous for families,” said Bell, a Democratic voter. “There are so many people in Alabama who are on it.”
Said Donna Orchard, a Democrat from Robertsdale: “I’m really upset the Affordable Care Act is being dismantled. They are talking about getting rid of it.”
Veteran’s health care: Byrne defended a bill he supports that would allow veterans to choose what doctor and hospital they want to receive medical care.
The legislation aims to offer an alternative to veterans who have until now been forced to use the federal VA system that has been widely criticized by veterans groups and lawmakers for its inefficiencies.
Byrne’s district includes about 60,000 veterans.
“My bill will allow you to have a card to use in the private sector anytime,” said Byrne.
Environment: Byrne said he would not support any plans by the Trump administration to “dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency,” in a rare answer that drew applause.
“I will do everything I can to protect the woods and the waters that we get to benefit from down here,” said Byrne.
But the congressman criticized overly excessive EPA regulations that hurt business. He said there has to be more of a balance between environmental protection and job retention.
Public education: Byrne said he advocates for measures that will keep the federal government from interfering in public education.
He called new U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos a “good person.” That comment drew jeers from the crowd and a shout that she wasn’t qualified to lead the federal agency.
DeVos, a wealthy supporter of political campaigns throughout the U.S. and in Alabama, was an ardent defender of charter schools and pushed for their expansion in Michigan. Her nomination as Secretary of Education has been vehemently opposed by teacher unions.
“I think it would be better for those of us who love education … to talk to her,” said Byrne. “You can still disagree with someone and believe she’s a good person. We do have school choice in Alabama and across America. A vast majority of children are educated in regular public schools … we have to make sure that all public schools are successful.”
Media bias: Byrne said he’s had a private conversation with a national reporter encouraging more mindfulness in reporting “facts” while leaving opinions off-air.
“When I was a kid, it was news,” Byrne said. “When Walter Cronkite came on, I got the facts. Now when I turn on the news, I have seven to eight people offering me their opinions. I want them to give me, and you, the facts.”
Byrne said he believes there is media bias “from time to time” on national television networks.
When one person shouted, “Fox News,” Byrne added, “I didn’t exclude anyone from that.”
Special prosecution: Byrne said he didn’t support the hiring of a special prosecutor to look into the Trump administration’s past dealings with Russia.
“At this point in time, I know of no information that would justify asking for a special prosecutor,” Byrne said in a comment that drew boos from the audience. “If there is a reason to ask for one, don’t worry, I’ll ask for one.”
Byrne, meanwhile, said he has faith in the House and Senate intelligence committees in investigating Russia’s role in interfering with last year’s presidential election.
“This is not their first time to interfere with an election around the world,” said Byrne. “They do it a lot. They are getting better at it. We should stand up against the Russians here in America and abroad.”
Travel ban: Byrne defended Trump’s revised ban on foreign travelers that would affect would-be visitors and immigrants from Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Libya.
The order, signed Monday, makes clear that current visa holders will not be impacted, and removes language that shows preference of one religious group over another.
“Over the next 90 days, the administration will develop a vetting process that will work,” said Byrne. “After that 90 days, the administration will have a system that tells you that the people we are admitting into this country are not embedded Isis terrorists. I think (Trump’s latest plan) is reasonable and doesn’t apply for people who are here on Visas. It will make us safer.”
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Published at Tue, 07 Mar 2017 04:20:09 +0000