Nearly 800 people turned out Wednesday night for a town hall meeting with 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador that went more than three hours, dominated by people with critical questions about the Trump administration and the congressman’s positions toward it.
“I don’t mind if you boo me or yell at me,” Labrador told the audience to begin the night in the Meridian Middle School auditorium. “That’s part of the process. But let me answer the question.”
People quickly lined up dozens deep at mics in the aisles. Setting what was to be a mostly combative tone for the night, the first questioner asked about Republican efforts to abolish the Department of Education, the second about President Donald Trump’s tax returns. Labrador was booed for answering: “I don’t think there’s anything in the law that requires the president to provide his tax returns.”
Most of the evening’s questions focused on Trump, health care programs and funding, and social programs and agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency that might be cut in Republican-controlled Washington, D.C. Questioners were predominantly left-of-center and there seemed to be few supporters from Labrador’s conservative base in attendance.
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I wasn’t planning to stay this late.
Raúl Labrador, after taking questions for more than three hours
But apart from being boisterous and occasionally shouting out, attendees were respectful, if rarely on the congressman’s side. In spite of that, Labrador added an hour to what was to have been a 90-minute appearance, and was still fielding questions at 9:30 p.m., three hours in.
“I’m super popular tonight,” he said at one point after another chorus of boos.
Some specific exchanges:
▪ To one of several similar questions about health care, Labrador said: “I did answer it. I just explained to you and you booed me for the answer.”
▪ On President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago visits, their cost and lack of transparency: Labrador agreed it’s an issue.
▪ On deportations: “If you’re here illegally, you don’t have a right to be in the United States.”
▪ On family leave: “You want the government to demand certain things of people and businesses, and I want less of that.”
▪ On a citizen’s right to health care: “I do not believe that healthcare is a basic right.”
▪ On federal funding for education: “I think we need to bring the accountability and the responsibility to the state level.”
▪ On Trump’s military actions: Labrador said he was “grateful” Trump is “showing some spine.”
▪ On Russian election meddling: “Proper committees and agencies” are investigating, but so far there is no evidence of collusion between Trump and foreign entities. If such evidence surfaces, then the FBI should do everything necessary to investigate.”
▪ On funding for Planned Parenthood: “I don’t believe the federal government should be giving money to an abortion provider.”
▪ On criminal justice: While a strong supporter of police, he said any big agency can have problems. He’s for body cameras, but is “not a fan” of private prisons.
Labrador’s office chose the 1,200-seat school auditorium to accommodate the larger-than-usual crowd. By 90 minutes in, about half had left, although more than 40 people still stood in line for questions. Almost all represented the surge in liberal-progressive activism that emerged after the November election, drawing a comparison to the 2010 rise of the conservative Tea Party movement. In Idaho, it has fueled large gatherings and marches at the Capitol, visits to the district offices of Idaho’s Congressional delegation, and calls and protests for more public dialogue with them in town hall settings like Labrador’s event.
Now in his fourth term, Labrador, an outspoken charter member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, has shown he is rarely one to duck debate or confrontation over policy disagreements. The Freedom Caucus, comprising some three dozen House members, has emerged as a formidable minority voting block within the Republican house majority, responsible for the ouster of former House Speaker John Boehner and, just last month, the defeat of the Republican health care reform effort. Their rejection of the health care plan prompted a verbal skirmish with the President Donald Trump.
Labrador’s national profile has risen in prominence along with the caucus. Though he has weathered criticism this year for not meeting with constituents in a public forum up to now, Labrador has actually been more accessible and more willing to engage in publc debate than most of his colleagues. In addition to his national stature, he faces added pressure within the state this year to keep himself in the limelight. He is considered a likely candidate for governor in 2018 but so far has not joined the race, while three other Republicans have jumped in.
“I wasn’t planning to stay this late,” he told reporters after the town hall. “I think the passion that you see with these crowds is really good. It’s always good when people are energized and concerned about their country and their communities. And it’s always good to see whether they agree with you or not.”
Ruth Brown contributed.
Labrador Town hall Monday in Nampa
Labrador’s second town hall is 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Mission Aviation Fellowship, 112 N. Pilatus Lane, in Nampa.