U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert on Thursday defended his choice to not hold town hall meetings and tried to quell fears the GOP plan to undo the Affordable Care Act will cause people to lose their health coverage.
In a live-streamed interview with the television station KCTS 9, the Republican from Auburn fielded a wide-range of questions sent from constituents to host Enrique Cerna, who pressed Reichert on why he chose an internet forum over an in-person event.
“My view of town halls today, it’s degenerated into a shouting, yelling and screaming match,” Reichert said, citing fears his staff wouldn’t be safe in a traditional town hall setting.
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Instead, Reichert said he prefers meeting with small groups of people and urged contact with his office to do so.
“I want to sit down and talk to people and work this out,” said Reichert, a former King County Sheriff.
Reichert and other members of Washington’s Republican delegation have come under fire from liberal groups this month for not holding in-person town hall events — mainly to discuss Republican ideas on health care reform and President Donald Trump’s controversial immigration order.
Protesters have been marching at their offices demanding town halls. On Thursday morning, hundreds of people protested outside Reichert’s Issaquah office.
Reichert praised the demonstrators, saying they got necessary permits and “did it the right way.” Still, he made it clear he wouldn’t meet demands for an in-person town hall.
“I will not do a town hall with 4-500 people,” he said. “They’re not productive.”
Alex Bond, spokesman for the state Democratic Party, blasted Reichert’s safety concerns as unfounded, pointing to the peaceful protestors in Issaquah as an example of who might show up to a town hall.
“It’s part of his job to answer questions from his constituents and the sheriff seems scared to do that,” Bond said.
Some of Washington’s Democrats in Congress — including U.S. Reps. Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor and Adam Smith of Bellevue — are having town halls this month and next.
But other Democrats, such as U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, aren’t.
Murray told reporters during a visit to Olympia Wednesday her schedule has been too busy to come home regularly or to plan town hall meetings. But she said she’s been trying to connect with constituents this week by meeting them “where they work.”
Murray is the second highest ranking Democrat in the Senate.
“We’re getting so many letters and phone calls and mail, I’m doing everything I can to stay in touch with as many people as possible,” she said.
Kati Rutherford, a spokeswoman for Heck, said the congressman is planning an event for next week centering on the Affordable Care act but said he likes to do them in “a variety” of formats rather than in-person town halls.
At Reichert’s Thursday appearance, he also laid out his hopes for a replacement to the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
About 750,000 people in Washington now have health insurance as a result of Obamacare, according to the office of Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee. An expansion of the government health care program Medicaid has provided coverage to 600,000 of those people.
He said the GOP plan will keep two signature provisions of Obamacare: Protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and the option for children under the age of 26 to stay on their parent’s health insurance plans.
Although he said the Medicaid expansion would be altered, those who no longer qualify “will have an “offramp” and will be “gently moved onto another insurance policy” or other subsidies or tax credits to replace their insurance.
He also claimed that under a GOP replacement, “no one will lose coverage.”
A plan revealed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, last week would roll back Medicaid payments to states and replace the program with fixed payments, rather than an open-ended entitlement that guarantees federal money for everyone who qualifies.
Murray, who is opposed to efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, was skeptical the GOP can pull off a health care system she deems adequate.
“The problem for (Republicans) is they don’t have a replacement plan that will work, that will provide the necessary care for people, and that has the votes,” Murray said.
A replacement is “gonna happen,” he said.
Reichert has served in Congress since 2005 and represents the state’s 8th Congressional District which encompasses Chelan and Kittitas counties and parts of Pierce, King and Douglas counties.