That the country is facing complex and polarizing issues was evident during the town hall held by Rep. Patrick McHenry at the Lincoln County Senior Center on Tuesday. A Denver Republican, McHenry is currently serving his eighth term in the United States Congress, representing the citizens of North Carolina’s 10th District.
McHenry customarily holds town hall meetings throughout the month of August and this is the sixth one he’s held so far this August.
“I seek your input and to hear your voice,” he told the audience. “I’m in the community regularly with business, nonprofits and school systems trying to get feedback. Town hall meetings are one way to do that. I’d rather sit down and talk face to face but some people like to stand up and talk publicly.”
Before McHenry accepted questions, he stated that what is seen on television or read in the press covers the most dramatic parts of what happens in Washington.
“It covers the fistfights, if you will,” he said. “It doesn’t cover the day to day action that I try to focus on which is working on policy to change people’s lives. I’m not a political commentator, that’s not what you hired me to do. I’m trying to change law and have a long-term impact on our country and our communities.”
McHenry then brought attention to the low unemployment rates, a growing economy and wage growth.
“The economy is good news,”he said. “I can attribute a big part of that to the regulatory and tax relief that was provided over the last two and a half years. There is good news despite what we see in social media and TV.”
The aftermath of the weekend shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, gun control laws and immigration where what most of the questions focused on.
One individual read through statements allegedly made by President Trump calling Hispanics “rapists, murderers, an invasion and infestation,” and then questioned why the leadership of the GOP, including McHenry himself, didn’t condemn such language.
“Is there any wonder why the less well-balanced among us grab guns to execute rapists and murderers in an attempt to repel the invasion and stamp out the infestation they are told exists,” she said. “The silence of the GOP leadership and GOP representatives and senators has been deafening … Isn’t that language and your party’s silence in the face of such racism just begging for more Americans to be murdered like they were this weekend?”
Some members of the audience clapped when she finished.
“I think that’s horrible language,” McHenry said. “I think when you’re accusing somebody of using words and likening that to murder is a disgusting thing to do. What I would tell you is that I can’t control what the president tweets. So I’m not going to do what I didn’t do to Barack Obama or George W. Bush. I wasn’t a commentator about anything any president has done. I don’t find what the president said racist nor, from my actions with him do I believe he is racist.”
Other members of the audience clapped after his response.
McHenry said that what was happening on the southern border was a humanitarian crisis, an invasion, a failure of law, funding and physical infrastructure — including a barrier to keep people out that want to come here illegally.
“The difficulty is that we have facilities set up for detention but we do not have facilities set up for the massive numbers of people who are presenting themselves at the southern border,” he said. “We didn’t have that under Obama and I voted for funding so that we could enhance that. Most of these facilities were built during Obama’s tenure as president. There’s such a large number, to use the word ‘invasion’ is not beyond the pale.”
Some of the people coming across the border were coming to escape hardship while others, McHenry said, are human traffickers and to weed that out was difficult, even for the best-trained law enforcement and judges.
“Regardless of what the president says or tweets, this crisis is not going away,” he said. “When the president said much of what you quoted, he was a candidate, so this was well known before election day. What the president’s tweeted since election day is of no surprise to anybody who’s seen his almost decade’sworth oftweeting. It’s not how I tweet, but it’s how he tweets.”
McHenry’s membership with the NRA was brought to attention by one individual who said he was both a former veteran and gun owner who supported gun safety laws.
“You belong to the NRA and are endorsed by the NRA and received large contributions from the NRA,” he said. “In return, you’ve consistently opposed every single gun safety initiative that I’m aware of … What will it take for you to agree that your second amendment rights end where by rights for safety for my family begin.”
Yesterday, he continued, a protestor from El Paso held up a sign that read, “if I die in a white nationalist terror attack, leave my body on the steps of Congress.”
“Patrick,” the attendee said, his voice breaking. “I’m leaving the bodies of those who died in El Paso over the weekend on your doorstep.”
McHenry, obviously affronted by this statement, replied that “a single loss of life was a horrible, horrible thing but to think that you’re a respectable human (indicating the person asking the question) being by putting the blame on a legislator for the loss of Americans’ lives, whether it’s in El Paso or a town in Ohio, to do this with rhetorical flourish and to put bodies on somebody’s porch is a disgusting thing as well.”
Members of the audience both applauded McHenry and others replied that it wasn’t “disgusting.”
“Your partisanship has blinded you to the votes that I’ve actually cast and what I’ve actually said,” McHenry said. “I do and am a life member of the NRA and I’m a member of the NRA because I like what I do. They support me because they like the votes I cast, not the other way around. We do have background checks and we updated that in response to Parkland, which I voted for. Now that’s not enough.”
Background checks would not have stopped what happened in either El Paso or Dayton, McHenry said. The question that is more driving this is mental health which is more challenging.
“That’s why I support Red Flag laws,” he said. “These laws allow someone to go before a judge to take somebody’s rights away from them for a period of time. We’ve got about a dozen states that have done this which is where I think it should be done. It’s more complicated than second amendment rights and I think we should attempt to seek bipartisan solutions to get a better outcome.”
One individual, who stated that he was a “Latino,” not a “Hispanic,” and a gun owner with “a lot of guns and he didn’t plan on killing anybody.”
“I think the only reason why they want to take guns away from us is to enforce communism in this country like they have in Latin America,” he said. “The Democrats are using us as a guinea pig like they used the blacks before. Look at where they blacks are now. Now they want to use the Latinos. That’s why the blacks are walking away from the Democrats. We’re not for socialism. Good luck if you’re going to take my guns away from me.”
He then brought the discussion back to immigration and asked what could be done about it.
McHenry suggested, as a potential immigration fix, that if the unemployment numbers were low, and help wanted signs all over the place, then more people should be allowed in legally. If unemployment was high and there were no help wanted signs, then there should be a less inviting policy for immigration.
Healthcare was addressed by one individual who said that while the unemployment rate was low, some small businesses don’t offer health insurance. She said that McHenry and others who voted for getting rid of the Affordable Care Act and protection for pre-existing conditions wasn’t in the best interest of their constituents.
“The accusation that I’m trying to take away protection for pre-existing conditions is wrong, I’ve never voted against that,” McHenry answered. “This is a negative accusation made by partisans to make their point.”
McHenry acknowledged that he voted to repeal fully the ACA and is proud to have voted against “Obamacare” because, even if it had some good things to it, it didn’t deal with the question of affordability.
“If you’re the average recipient in Obamacare, which is mainly what Obamacare focused on, your premiums are dramatically higher than before Obamacare,” he said. “If you can’t afford it, you have no protection. We have a dramatic choice, do we hand over Obamacare and all those subsidies and Medicaid to the states and allow the states to be the incubators of real health care reform?”
With 50 different healthcare models, for example, if you want a socialist system, you could go to Vermont, McHenry said, that can fit the healthcare needs of our society.
“That’s what I want to do with healthcare,” he said. “On top of that, have more market competition against the insurers that are giving us bad choices mandated under Obamacare or do you want Medicare for all? I think that’s a horrible idea.”
The last person allowed to publicly question McHenry, said that she’s both a parent and a grandparent and taught school for 35 years.
“I urge you to do something about the safety of our children,” she said. “Our children go to school with fear every day. As an educator, I was asked to take a room of kindergarteners, look them in the eye and say, ‘this is what you do when an intruder comes into your school with guns.’ There are millions of children and this is the world they are growing up in because as adults we cannot compromise and talk to each other and come up with solutions. It breaks my heart, we are better than this, than Democrats and Republicans. Come up with an answer.”
McHenry responded that the question of hardening schools has been raised to the federal level, and has seen school safety bills and funding coming out of Raleigh as part of the budget.
“What’s mandated out of Washington doesn’t conform with the realities of schools across 50 states,” he said. “We talk about school violence and we talk about guns. Realize that there’s every day violence that is in many ways more endemic than what are the headline grabbers that we see nationally. That every day violence could be a broken leg for a child who is playing, or it could be bullying or the use of social media to the point of a child committing suicide. These things are much more challenging than simply a measure of going after guns. It’s not a simple discussion. There’s reasonable things we should do as reasonable people to make our schools safer.”