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Raucous, angry crowd grills Virginia Rep. Brat at town hall

MIDLOTHIAN, Va. (AP) — Critics of Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Brat and the House health care bill he voted for packed a raucous town hall meeting in his Virginia district Tuesday night, booing and shouting down the congressman from start to finish.

Brat is the latest in a series of lawmakers across the country who have gotten an earful from constituents at town hall meetings since last week’s passage of the House health care bill that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Hundreds of people packed the suburban Richmond church for the meeting Brat co-hosted with a Republican state senator, and dozens of protesters lined up outside ahead of its start, many of them holding signs shaped like tombstones. Inside, opponents appeared to far outnumber supporters.

The jeering and shouting began after the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance — while Brat was on stage but before he’d begun speaking — and it never let up.

A former economics professor who defeated then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a historic 2014 upset, Brat briefly discussed the health care bill before seguing into dozens of audience questions. Most of them were about the measure.

Critics shouted him down as he talked, sometimes to the point where his answers became indistinguishable or got cut off. Audience members also turned to yell at one another.

Brat frequently admonished the audience for the noise.

“Everybody asks for town halls so we can have civil discourse, and so that’s what we’re trying to do,” Brat said. “I’m trying to listen to the people right now on the key issues of our day.”

His co-host, Sen. Amanda Chase, at one point called for security to move toward the main doors, though it didn’t appear anyone was removed.

Afterward, Arthur Bailey, 48, said he thought Brat had been evasive and not answered several questions.

Bailey was wearing a black T-shirt with the word “Resist” across it, which he said he’d made himself. He said he sees health care as “the primary issue of our time,” and hopes the enthusiasm on display Tuesday night will carry on through the 2018 elections.

Craig DiSesa, 57, came out to support Brat, who he said did the best he could to deal with the constant disruptions.

“Dave was trying to give them the facts. I’m not sure they were listening,” he said.

Lawmakers across the country have faced angry constituents at town halls since President Donald Trump’s election, and several other meetings have turned testy since last week’s passage of the health care bill.

Over the weekend, Republican Rep. Tom Reed of New York was booed during a meeting. In Iowa, Rep. Rod Blum, stormed out of a TV interview when pressed about why he screens those who attend his public meetings. He then held a town hall, where he was booed and jeered by constituents.

And in Idaho, a Friday meeting erupted in boos after U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador said no one has died because they didn’t have access to health care.

Tensions also ran high at a town hall hosted Tuesday night in Moneta by fellow Virginia GOP Rep. Tom Garrett, who also voted for the health care bill. Constituents shouted, interrupted and jeered, and one woman was escorted out by law enforcement, The Roanoke Times reported.

Tuesday was Brat’s second town hall of the year. He held another in Blackstone in February, where he was loudly heckled when he defended Trump and his policies on health care and immigration.

A member of the Freedom Caucus, Brat voted against the first iteration of the House Republican health care plan but for the most recent version.

The bill would eliminate the fines President Barack Obama’s law imposed on people who don’t buy coverage, and erase tax increases in the Affordable Care Act on higher-earning people and the health industry. It would cut the Medicaid program for low-income people, transform Obama’s subsidies for millions buying insurance, and allow states to get federal waivers freeing insurers from other Obama coverage requirements.

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