RENO — Nearly 600 people turned out for the joint town hall meeting with Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei on Monday morning, the vast majority to vent their displeasure at positions the two have taken.
Heller took the sharpest criticism from the crowd as several speakers charged that he was evading, not answering their questions. Several times, the crowd started chanting “answer the question” as Heller spoke.
“When I think Trump’s right, I’ll support him. When I don’t, I won’t,” said Heller, drawing boos from the crowd.
One speaker charged that Heller has backed every Trump appointee including Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general who sued the EPA 14 times but is now head of that agency.
Another accused Heller of giving “fuzzy answers,” to questions including on efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.
Heller said he had no problem with federal funding for Planned Parenthood but hedged saying, “The question is, should federal funding cover some of the activities?”
“States have the right to make a determination how to use that funding,” he said drawing boos from the audience at the Reno/Sparks Convention Center.
“Last year you said you could not support Trump,” said Susan Hastings. “But since then you’ve fallen in line with that poster boy for moral turpitude.”
Amodei deflected that question saying simply that, “I support funding with Planned Parenthood being one of the outlets.”
A sizeable number of speakers objected to the Trump budget proposal cutting the Environmental Protection Agency budget by 25 percent or more. Amodei pointed out that Congress, not the President makes and approves the budget. He said EPA has already faced cuts of some 15 percent and that even the Republican Chairman of the Appropriations Committee has said they aren’t going to cut that agency another 25 percent.
Heller too said the proposed budget is just that — proposed — and likely won’t look anything like what Trump submitted when finally approved. But he drew more boos when he said more power to make environmental decisions should be at the state level.
“I have more confidence in Gov. Sandoval than I do anybody in Washington, D.C.,” he said.
When the subject of healthcare was raised, audience members started chanting “single payer.”
Both Heller and Amodei said they couldn’t support the Paul Ryan plan that was blocked in the House.
Heller said the plan would have caused 14 million people to lose healthcare coverage in just the first year: “You think I’m going to support that?”
He said he told Vice President Mike Pence he couldn’t support that plan.
Heller drew some applause when he told the crowd he supports allowing re-importation of drugs, which some say would greatly lower their cost.
Using the Epi-Pen as an example, he said, “You can buy an Epi-Pen in Canada for $300. Here it’s $600. There is something wrong with this picture.”
Immigration, both men said, has been so politicized, Congress hasn’t been able to move on the issue. Both blamed leadership.
“Leadership on both sides prefers to make the issue a political football,” said Amodei. “I’d love to vote for an immigration bill.”
Heller said congressional leaders should, “get off their butts and bring a bill to the floor.”
He said he was one of four Republican Senators to vote for comprehensive immigration reform three years ago and one of the Republicans to vote for the Bridge Act to protect people who are already here. He said he supports a path for those here illegally to become citizens. Unfortunately, Heller said the immigration bill passed the Senate but died without action in the House.
“The comments made by this President about the Hispanic population are one reason I couldn’t support him,” he said.
Amodei drew boos over the Obama administration’s use of executive power to create national monuments. He said he isn’t opposed to creating national monuments, just using executive power to do so. He said like legislation, those proposals should be discussed and approved by both houses.
The two took questions from 9-11:30 a.m., a half hour longer than originally scheduled, then stayed to talk with some audience members for another half hour.