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Members Of Congress Face Angry Constituents At Town Halls

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This week, Congress is on recess, and most members are at home in their districts. It has not been a relaxing trip home for some of them, especially Republicans. Constituents and other demonstrators have been using town hall meetings to vent about the Trump administration and share worries about issues like the promised repeal of Obamacare. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Perhaps all of this feels a bit familiar. Remember President Obama's first year in office when the proposed Affordable Care Act launched angry protests in the early days of the tea party?

(CROSSTALK)

GONYEA: That was then. It was a Democratic congressman being jeered. This is now in a small town in Iowa yesterday with GOP Senator Joni Ernst.

(CROSSTALK)

GONYEA: As the crowd got noisier, Senator Ernst ended the event, prompting chants of, do your job.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Do your job. Do your job.

GONYEA: Many Republicans have simply decided not to hold town hall events this recess. But some, like Iowa's other senator, Chuck Grassley, have kept with tradition. At his event, this audience member recalled that Grassley once warned that Obamacare would allow the government to, quote, "pull the plug on grandma."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: And with all due respect, sir, you're the man that talked about the death panel.

GONYEA: There never were death panels. But yesterday, the man said this on the topic of repealing Obamacare.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You're going to create one great big death panel in this country that people can't afford to get insurance.

GONYEA: Now let's go to Kentucky, coal country, where Senate Leader Mitch McConnell also faced tough questions about health care. Rose Mudd Perkins, a former backer of Bernie Sanders for president, combined her frustration over Donald Trump's promises on jobs with her fears about Obamacare's repeal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROSE MUDD PERKINS: These coal jobs are not coming back. And now these people don't have the insurance they need 'cause they're poor. And they worked those coal mines. And they're sick. The veterans are broken down. If you can answer any of that, I'll sit down and shut up like Elizabeth Warren.

GONYEA: She's referring there to that moment when McConnell recently refused to let Senator Warren finish a speech on the Senate floor. And so it has gone all across the country, with Republicans taking most of the heat. But some Democrats have felt it, as well.

Other topics that have come up include whether the GOP-controlled Congress is willing to investigate President Trump, especially after so much time Republicans spent investigating the Obama administration. This is from a town hall in Arkansas hosted by Republican Steve Womack.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: What about Benghazi? You guys wasted a lot of money on Benghazi. Waste a little on Trump.

GONYEA: The White House has weighed in on all of this. In a tweet, the president described the, quote, "so-called angry crowds," saying everything is, quote, "planned out by liberal activists." Today, his press secretary, Sean Spicer, added this.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SEAN SPICER: I think some people are clearly upset, but there is a bit of a professional protester manufactured base in there.

GONYEA: This White House pays great attention to the size of its own crowds. But on these events, Spicer says those showing up may be loud, but that doesn't mean they're representative of public opinion. Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.