Rep. Young faces tough questions at town hall
Although U.S. Rep. David Young, of Iowa’s Third District, set out to create an amicable atmosphere at his “pop up” town hall meeting on February 23 — by personally greeting people as they entered the Living History Farm’s Visitor’s Center, and filling his front row with children — the meeting had its share of jeers, cheers, hecklers and sign wavers.
While some elected officials have been criticized for holding town hall meetings in remote locations and cutting them short, Young addressed a capacity crowd of over 200 people at the Urbandale location, and exceeded his one hour question and answer session by 13 minutes.
Attendees wishing to ask questions put their names in buckets, and names were randomly drawn. Questions covered topics ranging from the Trump administration and immigration, to the environment and Planned Parenthood, with the greatest focus being on the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), often referred to as Obamacare.
While shouts of “Do your job” and “Yes or no” regularly drowned out Young’s answers, he was applauded when attendees thanked him for making himself available for the town hall meeting. After the audience participated in the Pledge of Allegiance, ending with a resounding emphasis on justice for all, the questions began.
On Health Care
Several questions revolved around the future of the ACA with people urging against repeal. Strong applause erupted after an audience member asked Young to “improve, but not repeal” the ACA.
“In a country with this much wealth,” everyone should have coverage, she said. She suggested that insurance should not be attached to one’s job. Young said he has spoken to many who have been able to get insurance under the ACA, but also some who have been hurt and lost their insurance, an answer that elicited angry shouts.
Young said he would like people to be able to carry their insurance with them from job to job. He supports increasing competition among insurance companies and people being able to buy health insurance across state lines. Audience members received a handout of what Young said he supports for health care, including covering pre-existing conditions and allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26. Some suggested that Young’s handout mirrored much about the ACA, and indicated he supports not repealing it. He said he favored “repair, fix, amend,” and that he supported the current mandate — a requirement for people to have health insurance or pay a penalty.
Since Young had voted in favor of repealing the ACA without a replacement while President Barack Obama was in office, one audience member said, “We don’t trust you,” when Young said he supports aspects of the ACA. The audience member asked what specifically Young would improve.
“The individual employer mandate bothers me,” said Young, adding that some employers can’t afford it. Young admitted that he had, indeed, voted to repeal the ACA when Obama was president, but that his vote was more symbolic than anything because there was no doubt that it wouldn’t get past the president’s desk.
“I’m leveling with you,” Young said in response to the ensuing jeers.
In response to a question about block grants — a Republican proposal to give each state a sum of money to use for Medicaid, a proposal some say will lead to underfunding and decreasing benefits — Young said he wants states to have flexibility with their programs, but that block grants would be his last resort.
On Planned Parenthood
When asked about Planned Parenthood funding, Young said, “you have seen my votes.” He voted for defunding Planned Parenthood after videos surfaced, purported to show that the organization sold fetal tissue for profit. An investigation found no wrong doing by Planned Parenthood, and the makers of the videos were indicted by a grand jury. Those charges were later dropped. Young did say that he favors making birth control more accessible by providing it over the counter, and funding other health centers.
On Citizens United
The crowd stood and applauded when Young was asked if he would support a constitutional amendment to overturn the landmark Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which cited freedom of speech in expanding corporate spending on elections. However, his answer was not well-received. Young indicated he has “free speech concerns” about such an amendment, which led to shouts about corporations not being people, and thus, do not have a right to free speech.
On Russian Influence
“Any time a country meddles in a U.S. election, it should concern all of us,” said Young when asked about the investigation into Russian ties to the current administration.
Young said the House Intelligence Committee is investigating, and that he supports waiting to see what the committee concludes before any additional investigation is approved. People in the crowd called for him to support an independent investigation rather than one by a Republican-dominated committee.
On Social Security
An employee of the Social Security Administration asked Young if he supported continuing to offer the same benefits. Young said his office does a lot of casework for people dealing with Social Security, and he is concerned about the lack of support services.
“If government gets to the point it is ineffective, it is dangerous,” Young said.
On the President and His Staff
An audience member who identified himself as a registered Republican expressed concerns about a president who “rules by ridicule.” He asked Young what his opinion was about Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist. Young’s response evoked a furious rebuke from the audience. Young said he has never met Bannon and didn’t know much about him, which resulted in many shouts of disbelief, and suggestions that Young “Google” him.
When the outcry died down, Young reiterated his assurances that the president is “not his boss,” but that his constituents are. When people shouted out that President Trump should pay taxes and that he should release his tax returns, Young said that he does think that Trump should release his tax returns. A store owner from Johnston said Trump is saying people don’t care about his tax returns, but he is wrong. He said the tax returns would show possible ties to Russia, or that Trump is “shirking his duties” as a taxpayer. He said Congress can get the tax returns released. Young agreed that the tax returns should be released, but did not indicate that he would support forcing their release. He did say he would sign a letter asking for them to be released.
In response to a question, Young said he would ask if President Trump reimbursed the government for use of Air Force One for what was billed as a campaign rally in Florida.
On The Wall
While being concerned about increasing border security, Young said that a wall across the entire border with Mexico was not needed. He said other solutions can be used, such as increased air and horse patrols and fencing in some areas. While some wanted a yes or no answer to whether or not he supported a wall, Young suggested that fiscal concerns would make other things a higher priority than funding the wall.
“I don’t support writing a blank check (for it),” Young said.
On Party Lines
Some in the audience urged Young to be a leader and not follow party lines. One asked if Young had the nerve “to work with Democrats and liberals to build a better nation together,” which drew thunderous applause. Working together, Young said, is his mantra. Someone suggested that Republicans are afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation from the administration.
“Are you actively speaking out to other Republicans?” one person asked.
“I have spoken out about religious litmus tests,” and other issues, Young said.
“We want you to do the right thing and be a leader,” one person said.
On the Environment
Young would not commit to the view that climate change is occurring due to human actions.
“There’s more to it,” he said, which resulted in shouts that he should trust science. Still, Young said people must be good stewards of the environment. He said he would fight for renewable fuels and the Renewable Fuel Standard.
While not speaking out against pipelines, Young said he is concerned about water quality, and is “guarding” the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) “furiously” in committee. Young serves on the Appropriations and Agriculture committees.
A woman, who said she works with the refugee population said, “These people are courageous. They inspire me every day,” when asking Young his stand on President Trump’s immigration ban.
Young said the ban won’t come before Congress, but that he has visited with Iowa charities that help refugees. He said he, as well as the state, recognize “the richness that refugees and immigrants have brought to us.”
“They are escaping things we can’t even imagine,” said Young, adding that Iowa has always been welcoming.
On the Arts
The Trump administration has proposed eliminating the National Art Endowment Fund.
“Arts are the soul of America,” shouted an audience member, to great applause.
“I have a great appreciation for the arts,” said Young, reassuring the crowd that the president’s budget is not signed into law. “Congress does the budget,” he said, adding that Congress will continue to support the arts.
On the Press
Young said a free and independent press is vital, and that it is up to individuals to discern which news sources are reliable.
On Gun Control
The final question of the event was whether Young would support “sensible gun control,” with the questioner suggesting that the gun lobby had donated large amounts to Young’s campaign, and that his vote had been bought. A disagreement about the amount Young has received from the gun lobby quickly drowned out any discussion and brought the town hall meeting to an end.