Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) faced hundreds of angry constituents at a town hall Wednesday night who grilled him for two hours on the Affordable Care Act, immigration, President Donald Trump’s administration and other issues.
The town hall, held at a high school in Springdale, Arkansas, was raucous throughout. About 2,000 people packed the auditorium and frequently drowned Cotton out with cheers, boos and jeers. Some attendees waved red cards when the senator said something they didn’t agree with.
The uproar hit a peak when a 25-year-old constituent pressed the senator on whether he intends to preserve the Affordable Care Act’s treatment protections for people with preexisting conditions. (Congressional Republicans, including Cotton, have vowed to repeal Obamacare but have yet to lay out a comprehensive plan for replacing it.) She kicked off her remarks by asking who in the auditorium was affected by the Affordable Care Act:
She then explained she suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a condition that affects the body’s connective tissues and blood vessels.
“Without coverage for preexisting conditions, I will die,” she said. “Will you commit today to replacement protections for those Arkansans like me who will die or lose their quality of life or otherwise be unable to be participating citizens, trying to get their part of the American dream? Will you commit to replacement in the same way that you’ve committed to repeal?”
The auditorium erupted in cheers as the crowd gave her a standing ovation. Cotton then attempted to dodge the question and asked for others in the audience to offer comments before he gave an answer.
That didn’t go over well with the bulk of the crowd, which began booing and chanting, “Do your job.” Cotton eventually returned to her question but largely evaded her request for specifics on how he intends to preserve coverage for preexisting conditions.
Watch part of their exchange:
Another woman then confronted Cotton on his support for Obamacare repeal. She said her husband is dying, and she challenged Cotton to sit down with her and her family and hear about their experiences with public health care.
“You want to stand there ... and expect us to be calm, cool and collected,” she said. “Well, what kind of insurance do you have?”
Cotton faced many other questions on his support for Trump ― one attendee asked how he could support a president who “wants to grab women by the pussy” ― and his congressional record. He was pressed on his opposition to gun control measures, his proposed immigration policies and the president’s tax returns. Almost every answer was met with boos.
The last question went to a 7-year-old boy concerned about Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and his reported plan to cut funds for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
“Donald Trump makes Mexicans not important to people who are in Arkansas who like Mexicans, like me,” said the boy. “He’s deleting all the parts in PBS Kids just to make a wall. He’s going to do that. He shouldn’t. He shouldn’t do all that stuff just for a wall.”
Cotton attempted to answer by praising America as a “melting pot,” a comment met with jeers.
“You should listen to the next generation,” yelled one attendee.
“We want Mexico to be a healthy, strong partner,” Cotton said. “We also have to protect our own citizens ... and that’s where the wall comes in.”
Other Republicans have faced similarly tense crowds at town halls across the country during the congressional recess. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was berated by a woman who was upset with Republican accountability on jobs and health care. Republican Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, and Reps. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Dave Brat of Virginia have been confronted in recent days.
And some Republicans are avoiding the meetings altogether, turning to conference calls. Some are threatening to cancel public appearances if people disrupt them.
Trump, meanwhile, has attempted to dismiss the town hall demonstrations as “planned out by liberal activists.”