Protesters jeer Nevada congressmen over public availability

February 23, 2017 GMT

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Over the jeers of 200 protesters outside, Nevada’s two Republican congressmen said Wednesday that town hall meetings will be more appropriate once they have a better grasp of how the party will unite to reform the Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei answered a barrage of questions and attempted to placate hecklers inside the ticketed event while protesters outside screamed that the lawmakers have turned a deaf ear to constituents concerned about the new White House administration’s policies.

Protesters are confronting Republican members of Congress across the country this week as the lawmakers return home for a recess, probing lawmakers to see if they’ll veer from President Donald Trump’s more controversial actions or increase their public availability.

“Heller has ignored constituents at a time of fear and uncertainty,” state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, D-Las Vegas, said to other protesters outside the event at Gold Dust West casino and hotel in Carson City.

Heller and Amodei said they need more time to be able to answer specific questions about health care, immigration and renewable energy policies — in no small part because of how recently Trump took office. Republicans, they said, continue to be divided on how to repeal former President Barack Obama’s landmark health law.

“It’s not a lack of ideas; I’ve seen a lot of ideas in Washington, D.C. The problem is actually coalescing behind one program,” Heller said. “We’re going to get there; in fact we just put the Health Secretary (Tom Price) in place last week, so we’re looking for some direction from the White House as to the direction they want to go.”

Amodei said he supports the Obamacare provisions that ban insurance companies from denying care to people with pre-existing conditions, allow people to stay on a parent’s plan until age 26 and let people buy insurance across state lines. On those provisions, Heller said “We’ll take a look.”

“Here’s the problem: You’ve gotta come up with a system that actually pays for itself,” Amodei said. “In April, which is when we will endeavor to schedule the town hall, you will have — oh my God — about six more weeks’ worth to see what really happened and what’s actually on the floor in legislation or not,” Amodei said.

Bob Fulkerson, who attended the luncheon in opposition to the lawmakers’ policies, said it was a success because, when pressed, both lawmakers committed to hold town halls in the near future. “We showed Trump’s most valuable players in Nevada we mean business; they’d better listen to us,” said Fulkerson, executive director of Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. “They need to choose between Trump and Nevada.”

Heller agreed to the town halls on the condition that the audience not boo or applaud, then said “in fact, I’ll do it with you, Mark, you and I will do a town hall meeting.”

The Democratic Party is targeting Heller’s seat in the Senate and state party officials are encouraging pushback over his votes to confirm Trump’s Cabinet picks.

“I think every president has a right to put their cabinet in place,” Heller said, adding that voting to confirm Trump’s nominees does not mean he’ll support them on every policy.

“Heller has done nothing to stand up to him and his agenda,” Cancela told protesters at the Gold Dust West hotel and casino. “We will.”

Misinformation was circulated online prior to the event, fueled in part by the Democratic calls for more town hall meetings.

Misled by a website that prompted them to reserve a spot at a “town hall with Sen. Dean Heller,” Virginia City residents Dan Lucas and Marilyn Norton drove 20 miles to the casino Wednesday morning only to find out the sold-out event was private and they could not attend. The couple took their grievances and questions outside and joined the protesters.

Ronni Hannaman, executive director of the chamber, said the timing of the lawmakers’ visit was not politically strategic. She praised their “pro-business stance.”

“Today’s speakers — and we’re proud to have them here — were scheduled far in advance of the election,” Hannaman said.

Admission to the Carson City Chamber of Commerce’s monthly event started at $16.


This story has been updated to correctly spell the name of Bob Fulkerson.