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Members Of Congress Face Angry Constituents At Town Halls


This week, Congress is on recess, and most members are at home in their districts. It has not been a relaxing trip home for some of them, especially Republicans. Constituents and other demonstrators have been using town hall meetings to vent about the Trump administration and share worries about issues like the promised repeal of Obamacare. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Perhaps all of this feels a bit familiar. Remember President Obama's first year in office when the proposed Affordable Care Act launched angry protests in the early days of the tea party?


GONYEA: That was then. It was a Democratic congressman being jeered. This is now in a small town in Iowa yesterday with GOP Senator Joni Ernst.


GONYEA: As the crowd got noisier, Senator Ernst ended the event, prompting chants of, do your job.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Do your job. Do your job.

GONYEA: Many Republicans have simply decided not to hold town hall events this recess. But some, like Iowa's other senator, Chuck Grassley, have kept with tradition. At his event, this audience member recalled that Grassley once warned that Obamacare would allow the government to, quote, "pull the plug on grandma."


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: And with all due respect, sir, you're the man that talked about the death panel.

GONYEA: There never were death panels. But yesterday, the man said this on the topic of repealing Obamacare.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You're going to create one great big death panel in this country that people can't afford to get insurance.

GONYEA: Now let's go to Kentucky, coal country, where Senate Leader Mitch McConnell also faced tough questions about health care. Rose Mudd Perkins, a former backer of Bernie Sanders for president, combined her frustration over Donald Trump's promises on jobs with her fears about Obamacare's repeal.


ROSE MUDD PERKINS: These coal jobs are not coming back. And now these people don't have the insurance they need 'cause they're poor. And they worked those coal mines. And they're sick. The veterans are broken down. If you can answer any of that, I'll sit down and shut up like Elizabeth Warren.

GONYEA: She's referring there to that moment when McConnell recently refused to let Senator Warren finish a speech on the Senate floor. And so it has gone all across the country, with Republicans taking most of the heat. But some Democrats have felt it, as well.

Other topics that have come up include whether the GOP-controlled Congress is willing to investigate President Trump, especially after so much time Republicans spent investigating the Obama administration. This is from a town hall in Arkansas hosted by Republican Steve Womack.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: What about Benghazi? You guys wasted a lot of money on Benghazi. Waste a little on Trump.

GONYEA: The White House has weighed in on all of this. In a tweet, the president described the, quote, "so-called angry crowds," saying everything is, quote, "planned out by liberal activists." Today, his press secretary, Sean Spicer, added this.


SEAN SPICER: I think some people are clearly upset, but there is a bit of a professional protester manufactured base in there.

GONYEA: This White House pays great attention to the size of its own crowds. But on these events, Spicer says those showing up may be loud, but that doesn't mean they're representative of public opinion. Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.