SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A crowd of more than 1,000 people in Utah’s Democratic stronghold booed Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart at a Friday night town hall as the congressman defended GOP positions on health care, public lands and immigration.
Audience members yelled, “Do your job,” imploring him to investigate and denounce connections between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia and to hold the new administration accountable.
Stewart started the event at a high school in Salt Lake City by acknowledging that most of those in the crowd didn’t vote for him, but he said he thinks it’s still important to hear them — one of the few comments he made that received applause.
“It’s my job to be here,” he said. The crowd applauded and one person shouted, “Tell that to Chaffetz!”
The event marked the first town hall by a member of the state’s all-Republican congressional delegation since Rep. Jason Chaffetz was shouted down by a cacophony of boos at a February town hall.
Chaffetz later claimed that some of those in attendance were paid protesters.
Before Stewart’s event started Friday night, Democratic state Sen. Jim Dabakis of Salt Lake City said he wanted to ensure attendees were also “paid,” and he handed out Russian rubles to dozens of people waiting in line to enter.
While many in the crowd were angered by Stewart’s answers, including his defense of Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico, shouting and boos did not reach the same level of discord that Chaffetz faced.
Audience members held signs that read “agree” and “disagree,” to show how they felt about audience questions and the congressman’s responses. Many in the crowd stood and shouted, at times making it difficult to hear part of Stewart’s comments.
One woman in the audience asked a question about early Mormon church leader Brigham Young’s instructions that his followers keep the valley around Salt Lake City pure, but audience members booed the question and the congressman said he didn’t know how to answer.
The woman later tearfully re-appeared at the microphone and explained she had been trying to ask a question about the environment but she was nervous and phrased it poorly.
Stewart then told audience members that it’s their right to demonstrate, but he asked if they think people watching the crowd’s behavior would want to support them.
Some of the loudest objections came in response to questions about the president and Russia. Laura Wolf of Salt Lake City asked Stewart, who serves on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, whether he was concerned about Russian interference in the U.S. election and Trump’s possible ties, or whether he was just concerned about leaks of classified information.
“I’m equally concerned about both and we want to find out the answer to both,” he said.
Stewart, who has been in office since early 2013, has been criticized by some Utah voters for his support of Trump in the election and Republican plans to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Just before the election last November, Stewart said he would vote for Trump, despite having denounced him for comments in a 2005 Access Hollywood tape in which the president bragged about groping women.
Stewart said last year that he was supporting Trump in order to prevent Democrat Hillary Clinton from winning, particularly because he was concerned about the next president filling vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Stewart, who was re-elected to a third term in November with about 62 percent of the vote, represents Utah’s 2nd Congressional District. It’s the state’s largest congressional seat, covering Salt Lake City, some of its northern suburbs and a vast chunk of the state’s western and southern rural areas.
Friday night’s event was his 51st town hall, including five telephone town halls, according to his office.
This story has been corrected to show that Stewart’s district includes western parts of Utah, not eastern. Associated Press writer Hallie Golden contributed to this story.
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