Rep. Rod Blum faced his constituents Monday night to defend the Republican health care bill, but agreed with critics who chided the “rushed” process.
The Iowa Republican attempted to explain what he viewed as the merits of the bill, known as the American Health Care Act. Though he agreed with one constituent who raised concerns that House Republicans did not hold any hearings on the legislation before passing it last week.
“I have always said the process was bad, that it was rushed, it was rushed and there should’ve been hearings,” Blum told the crowd at Dubuque senior high school, according to a live stream of the town hall from CBS2/Fox28.
Blum said there should have been bipartisan input on crafting the health care proposal. Instead, GOP leaders used a procedure known as budget reconciliation to ensure only a GOP majority in both chambers would be necessary to pass the bill.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for a more inclusive process, but Democrats say they will only negotiate on health care if Republicans drop their goal of repealing the 2010 health care law passed during President Barack Obama’s administration.
“You voted on this bill in a rush,” said one constituent. “No hearings. This is not how democracy works. And you know that.”
“I’m not a fan of the process,” Blum responded. “But at the end of the day Iowans are not going to have insurance on Dec. 31 of this year. So we have to do something. I don’t like it. I don’t like the process. I agree with you on that.”
Blum said something had to be done to prevent insurance companies from pulling out of the individual markets the 2010 law created.
“Keeping Obamacare in Iowa is not an option,” he said. “Trumpcare, whatever you want to call it, is about the individual market only,” Blum said, referring to the GOP proposal.
Blum said he ultimately supported the revised GOP proposal because he believes it would bring down health insurance premiums. But some of his constituents were critical of his vote, raising questions about the bill’s effects on people on Medicaid and with pre-existing conditions.
‘Drop in the bucket’
Blum noted the bill included $130 billion in funds to curb costs for people with pre-existing conditions. His constituent responded that the figure was just a “drop in the bucket” of coverage.
The Iowa Republican is on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s 2018 target list. President Donald Trump won his district by nearly 4 points in November, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates his re-election race as Leans Republican.
Despite being a target in 2018, Blum is one of the few Republicans who will face his constituents at town hall meetings this week. But he made sure that no one from outside his district could take his constituents’ seats at the meeting.
Local news reports indicated that only residents of the 1st District were allowed in the town hall meeting Monday night. The requirement appeared to set up a tense television interview that went online shortly before the meeting started.
Blum sat down for an interview with KCRG-TV9, surrounded by children, with the reporter noting some would argue that Blum’s decisions impact all Iowans.
“I don’t represent all Iowans. I represent the 1st District of Iowa,” Blum said, arguing that the suggestion was akin saying he had the right to vote outside of his district, such as in Iowa City.
“Would you still take donations from a Republican in Iowa City?” the reporter asked.
‘This is ridiculous’
Blum then stood up, took off his microphone, said, “This is ridiculous,” and walked out.
Democratic State Rep. Abby Finkenauer, who formally announced last week she is challenging Blum, weighed in on Blum's interview with a statement Tuesday morning.
“Apparently, Rod Blum is so afraid of talking about where he gets political donations from that he’ll walk out on a roomful of kids without so much as an apology," Finkenauer said. “Members of Congress should be willing to answer questions from their constituents and the local news media – when you vote to increase the cost of healthcare for Iowans, you ought to be willing to answer for your vote, not try to keep voters out of your town hall."
Blum's T.V. interview came up in the final question at Monday’s town hall. A college student asked Blum, “If you can’t answer the tough questions of a reporter, and if you can’t answer the tough questions of a constituent, why should we trust you to answer some of the tough problems which face our country today?”
Blum said the interview was supposed to be about the local community center, and about his wife. He said of the reporter, “We were ambushed. ... He only wanted to talk to me. That became apparent very quickly, and very apparent that he had an agenda. So you know it’s my right to say, ‘This interview’s over.’”
The Iowa Republican went on to say that many of his GOP colleagues were not holding town hall meetings during the week-long recess.
“I took a lot of tough questions tonight, I think,” Blum said.
Blum did note the tense environment at the meeting, starting off by thanking the police present in the gymnasium. He said his office had received messages from people who hoped that Blum would shoot himself in the head, that his office would be “riddled with bullets,” and that there would be violence at the town hall meeting.
When some members of the audience began grumbling in protest, Blum responded, “This is what people have called and said, not what I’m saying.”
A spokeswoman for the Capitol Police declined to comment on whether offices were receiving increased threats since last week’s health care vote.
“Among our many responsibilities is to consult with Member offices on security-related matters,” Capitol Police spokeswoman Eva Malecki said in a statement. “However, we do not comment on these consultations or discuss how we carry out our protective responsibilities for Congress.”
Simone Pathe contributed to this report.