Town Hall Highlights: Immigration, Farm Bill, Gay Rights and Health Law
All over the country this week, people are stocking beer coolers, hauling burger buns, lighting barbecues and attending town hall events hosted by members of Congress.
It’s a ritual leading up to July Fourth, when lawmakers head home to their districts for a weeklong recess to meet with constituents and answer questions about the pressing issues up for debate on Capitol Hill.
This year, immigration, health care and farm policy have been topics of conversation. We’ve rounded up coverage of five different town hall meetings hosted by House members across the United States to give you a taste of what’s been going on.
1. At a library in Sparta, Mich., Republican Rep. Justin Amash told constituents Monday that the GOP ought to “be respectful” when speaking to gays and lesbians.
His remarks were in response to questions about last week’s Supreme Court ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman, was unconstitutional.
“Republicans have had a negative perception from the public and have been viewed more and more as disliking people because they are part of particular groups,” Amash said. “I don’t think that is healthy, and we don’t have to agree on these issues to be respectful when we talk about them.”
When the 5-4 decision was handed down, Amash reportedly told his colleagues in a closed-door House Republican Conference meeting that they should not say anything “stupid” about gay marriage, noting that many young conservative support same-sex unions.
2. As the House considers next steps for the farm bill that suffered surprise defeat late last month, freshman Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., suggested the legislation’s downfall is a turning point in national politics.
“[It] shows what can happen when conservatives are elected,” Bridenstine said, according to the Tulsa World.
Speaking on Tuesday at the Oklahoma State University-Tulsa auditorium, Bridenstine said his vote against the farm bill with 61 of his fellow Republican colleagues boded well for the realization of one of their top priorities: seeing the legislation split into titles, dealing separately with farm programs and nutrition programs.
“There has been this unholy alliance between food stamps and subsidies,” Bridenstine reportedly said. “Food stamps doubled under [President] George W. Bush and doubled again under President [Barack] Obama.”
House GOP leaders are mulling whether splitting the farm bill is the way to mobilize 218 Republican votes in a strategy favored not only by Bridenstine and some of his peers, but by outside conservative advocacy groups that played a role in sinking the bill.
On Monday, another Oklahoma Republican, Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank D. Lucas, was elsewhere in the Sooner State, hosting his own town hall decrying the influence of these groups — Heritage Action in particular, which ran an ad against him for his role in drafting the blueprint of the abhorred measure.
3. At the Wayne Municipal Building in New Jersey last Saturday, Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen signaled he was open to immigration reform legislation that provided undocumented citizens with a pathway to citizenship.
Though he “demurred” on the subject earlier on at the town hall event, according to a local report, Frelinghuysen later said he was “not against a pathway to citizenship, but it needs to be examined.”
However, Frelinghuysen also said he would stand with Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, in refusing to bring the Senate-passed immigration bill to the House floor.
4. Speaking of immigration and potential for bipartisanship, two California House members from opposite sides of the aisle joined forces to talk to constituents in their region of the state about immigration reform.
Democrat Jim Costa and Republican David Valadao were brought together in a two-hour town hall event Monday at Fresno City Hall, convened by Radio Bilingüe and broadcast live, the Fresno Bee reports.
According to the Bee, Valadao said he wanted to see momentum build in the House around passing immigration reform. While he said the Senate version of the bill was unlikely to even get a hearing in the House, as colleagues associate the legislation with “amnesty,” he signaled an interest in facilitating a more open dialogue about the issues at stake.
“Once you talk to the members and explain to them it’s a process, where they can work for it, appreciate it and someday become citizens — just like my parents did — most members begin to understand,” Valadao said.
Costa said there was no question that a legalization pathway was necessary: “We must give the 11 million people that are currently living in the shadow the opportunity they deserve to become a part of this great country of ours.”
5. And speaking of interesting pairings, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, D-Mo., was joined by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Saturday in Kansas City
The town hall meeting, according to a local report, was touted as an opportunity for constituents to ask questions about the president’s 2010 health care law and to discuss some of the more “controversial aspects.”
Such outreach efforts around Obamacare were encouraged by the Democratic Stering and Policy Committee in late May, as anxiety abounds over health insurance exchanges, the individual mandate and coverage issues generally.
Some of the information covered during Cleaver and Sebelius’ presentation, however, might now be out of date: The Obama administration announced Tuesday night it would delay by one year implementation of the new requirement that employers provide insurance to their workers.