WYE MILLS, Md., March 31—“No wall! No wall!” The crowd that packed a town hall meeting on the Eastern Shore broke into that chant as Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland’s only Republican in the U.S. Congress, tried to justify his support for Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall the length of the Mexican border.
The crowd gathered in a long line, in the rain, outside the auditorium on the campus of Chesapeake College in a region considered reliably Republican. But the crowd carried handlettered placards that read, “Trumpcare makes us sick” and “Don’t Repeal Obamacare. Fix it.” And when the doors were opened, every one of the 900 seats was taken with mostly angry constituents from Harris’ district which covers all of the Eastern Shore but also reaches across Chesapeake Bay to Anne Arundel, Baltimore County, and Howard County.
Dr. Harris, a former Johns Hopkins Hospital anesthesiologist, is an extreme right-wing foe of abortion rights, and the only Republican in Maryland’s eight Congressional Districts. (Both Maryland’s senators are also Democrats.)
The moderator told the crowd the town hall would be limited to one hour and Harris attempted to stall questions from the floor with a longwinded presentation, flashing slides on a giant screen and lecturing the crowd on the necessity to slash billions from every federal program except the military.
The crowd got restless, a loud angry buzz filling the auditorium. “Respect the people,” yelled one man in the crowd. Another shouted, “Answer our questions.”
And indeed, the written questions read aloud by the moderator, flew: “Will you still be able to sleep at night when the first people die due to a lack of Medicaid?” Another was a letter to Harris from a parent of a severely disabled child. The writer explained that after a long struggle, the child was approved for Medicaid coverage. Harris answered, “We need to turn it (Medicaid) back to the states.” The crowd groaned.
Harris is a member of the Freedom Caucus, who voted against House Speaker, Paul Ryan’s bill to repeal Obamacare because it did not go far enough in repealing all federal coverage of health care and was not generous enough in lavishing billions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy.
The crowd chanted, “Single payer! Single payer!”
Harris, angered by the heckling, said the Veteran’s Administration health care program is an example of “single payer,” adding: “Everyone should be able to choose their health care provider. If a single payer system were adopted you would get VA health care, not freedom of choice health care.” The crowd booed again.
Harris denounced what he called “the small amount of health care that Planned Parenthood provides” adding, “Taxpayer dollars should not be used to fund abortions.” This, however, was a misdirection and a false premise, since federal funding helps sustain only the non-abortion services provide by Planned Parenthood. Harris told the crowd the “free market” is the best system to insure health care coverage, greeted with more loud boos.
Harris praised Trump’s economic and budget policies, calling for an across the board repeal of federal regulations “to get the economy going again.” A woman shouted, “Raise the minimum wage.”
Another question demanded that Harris answer why he favors sharp cuts to the federal school lunch program. Harris replied that he has five children and they don’t like the food offered. He blasted public education: “The schools are failing and your tax dollars are going to those schools right now.” More prolonged boos.
Another asked Harris why he supports defunding the Environmental Protection Agency right at the time it is enforcing a ban on chemical compounds that worsen global climate change. Harris replied, “When overregulation impacts the economy to the extent that it does…” The roar of angry shouts of “No! No!” were so deafening that Harris lowered his microphone and stopped talking.
When Harris endorsed Trump’s plan to increase Pentagon funding by $54 billion and slash domestic programs by an equal $54 billion, the crowd shouted in unison, “No, No. No!”
Asked if he believes carbon dioxide is a cause of global climate change, Harris replied, “Yes, but we don’t know how much it contributes. The model is not perfect yet.” More boos and a voice shouted, “Yes, we do!”
Another question was from a “Dreamer” who wrote that he is an undocumented immigrant living in Maryland since infancy yet now faces instant deportation under Trump’s anti-immigration policy. Harris was unmoved. He replied that the U.S. is a “nation of laws.” Asked about Trump’s plan to build a wall along the Mexican border, Harris replied, “If we could build a barrier of some kind without building a wall, I would do it. But it doesn’t work.”
The crowd erupted in a deafening roar, “No WALL! No WALL.”
More questions focused on the current probe on Capitol Hill of Trump’s alleged connivance with the Russians in hacking the 2016 Presidential election. Does he support replacing Republican Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee for his secret visit to the White House for a briefing by Trump aides? Harris replied, “I don’t have enough information to decide if he should step down or not.” He said he opposes creation of an independent commission to probe the Russian hacking operation.
A voice in the crowd called out, “How about replacing Andy Harris?”
The crowd burst into applause and cheers.