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Rep. Reed Faces Tense Crowds At Town Halls In Western New York


Members of Congress are back in their home districts this week talking with their constituents. Often those exchanges happen in town hall settings where the lawmaker stands in front of a group of supporters and takes questions. Just a month into the administration of President Donald Trump, some of those exchanges are getting tense. Critics of Donald Trump are using these town halls to rail against the president's agenda. That's what Republican Congressman Tom Reed found himself up against this weekend when he was back in his home district in upstate New York.

He opened his event with a line that in the past has been a sure-fire crowd pleaser for Republican lawmakers.


TOM REED: Well, first and foremost, we are going to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.


MARTIN: Boos there, as you can hear, to that line. Needless to say, things are a little different now. Congressman Reed is on the line. Thanks so much for being with us, Congressman.

REED: Well, thanks for having me on, Rachel.

MARTIN: I want to first acknowledge that you were doing this town hall around a town called North Harmony, which is an irony too obvious not to point out.


MARTIN: Sounds like things were not super harmonious. Were you caught off guard by the level of tension?

REED: No, we've been doing town halls - it's a cornerstone of what I believe in. And we've done 200 plus of these town halls. To represent people, you've got to listen to people and even when they disagree. But I'm very much interested in getting their input, to find that common ground. And after about five hours of the give-and-go, we had stretches where we actually engaged in dialogue. And that's what it's going to take to solve these problems.

MARTIN: So what did those conversations look like? I mean, when you get into these heated moments where people at that town hall or others of your constituents are saying, listen, it's too risky to repeal the ACA. What do you tell them?

REED: I just say that's the reality that the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, is not functioning. It's producing a lack of choice. It's causing doctors not to accept patients. It's causing people to lose insurance. So we have to move forward. You know, and I heard a resounding response even from that crowd - well, just repair it, just repair it. So I said, OK, well, then where do you want me to focus?

MARTIN: Well, that's what I was going to ask you. When they say repair it, where did the conversation go?

REED: Well, I think what you're looking at first is recognizing things of the reforms that did work, that we needed care for like preexisting condition, the reforms on allowing kids to be carried forward on their parents' plan. So we can find agreement there. And then also we got into the question of health savings accounts and refundable tax credits to allow people to use their money to access the insurance they want to choose rather than one-size-fits-all bureaucratic health insurance out of Washington.

MARTIN: I want to switch topics now. Your constituents at that town hall were also calling for President Trump to release his tax returns. There was a lot of booing when you acknowledged, in that moment, that you had voted against a measure that would have forced the IRS to release those returns. Given the new reports of FBI investigations into the Trump team's connections to Russia, which may include financial ties, couldn't it just put all those concerns, at least about his financial holdings, to rest if those returns were to be released?

REED: Well, I mean, obviously I'll let the president speak for himself in regards to that. And this has been a campaign issue. There's no hiding the fact that people are concerned about this and they're trying to require the disclosure of the tax returns. But when you give that power to the government to force publicly the release of an individual's tax return, that's a tremendous amount of power in the government. That's a slippery slope. And if it begins with the president, where does it end? And so I voted against that because of that reason.

MARTIN: Russia's interference in the U.S. presidential election was also another big concern at the town hall. What were your constituents telling you?

REED: You know, I think it was along the lines of they just don't trust this president. They cannot acknowledge - I think a lot expected to be under a Clinton administration. And they're just raising the issue of the Russian ties. And as I had the conversation in the Oval Office in the White House last week with the president, I am personally very comfortable in the conclusion that the Russian issue is just not the issue that is at hand and doesn't require any further investigation.

But if new evidence comes out, obviously I respect the role of our oversights and we'll take a look at that in good faith.

MARTIN: So there's support, growing support, for a full investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee. But there is less enthusiasm for an investigation like that on the House side. Why is that? I mean, you say it would require different evidence for you to get behind something like that. What evidence?

REED: Yeah, not hearsay evidence, not speculation, not any type of muckraking in the public domain but real evidence. And that's why I do appreciate what...

MARTIN: Although the CIA and the - forgive me for interrupting. The CIA and the intelligence community has issued its professional assessments that Russia did indeed influence our election to benefit Donald Trump.

REED: Well, you know, as to that conclusion, you know, as we see the issue of voter fraud being raised, it's been repeatedly reported that there is no voter fraud and that this was a legitimately held election. And so the Russian issue is something that is separate and distinct. And I'm confident that the process will be there and the oversight will be there to answer any questions people feel about that issue.

MARTIN: Is it worrisome to you, though, that Russia would hack an American election and what implications that has for our democracy?

REED: Well, it's worrisome to me when anyone hacks our systems, be it Russia, North Korea, Iran. The issue of cybersecurity is something that is real, it's a real threat. And it has national security impacts across all spectrums, not just elections. And that does need to be...

MARTIN: Although none of those other countries - none of those other countries have hacked a U.S. presidential election.

REED: I know the hacking activity across the world has been significantly raised. And I will say that any type of hacking of our cyber systems is something I'm very sensitive to.

MARTIN: Republican Congressman Tom Reed - he represents the 23rd District of New York state. Thank you so much for your time, Congressman.

REED: I appreciate it, Rachel. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.