Town hall tension

Blum faces questions on Russia, health care and more

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS U.S. Rep. Rod Blum held a town hall-style meeting in Marshalltown with dozens of constituents Thursday afternoon, and discussed his positions on Russia investigations, the AHCA, climate change and more.

Cheering, clapping, hissing and booing echoed through Babe Harder Gym at Marshalltown Community College as U.S. Rep. Rod Blum was confronted with constituents’ questions Thursday afternoon.

The Republican congressman faced many questions, and red cards of disagreement, over a recently-passed U.S. House health care bill, the American Health Care Act of 2017 (AHCA), and on investigations into alleged collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia.

“I was a ‘no’ on the health care bill for a long time,” said Blum, who ended up voting ‘yes’ to the AHCA in the House.

He said his vote came down to a compromise.

“I wanted to see things in the bill to bring down the cost of those folks’ premiums for a long time,” he said. “We (the House Freedom Caucus) held out and held out and held out, and we got it in the bill, and then it got taken out of the bill.”

Instead, he said states can apply for a waiver under the bill’s language.

“I talked to Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds, we’re in a bad place in Iowa right now,” Blum said. “I don’t want anybody losing their insurance Jan. 1, so that’s the reason that I switched from a ‘no’ to a ‘yes.'”

He said most or all of the state’s three Managed Care Organizations, or MCOs, could leave the state.

“If we just leave it (the Affordable Care Act) the way it is, if you’re in the individual market today … you’ll have no options in Iowa,” Blum said. “Only about 10 percent of Obamacare was changed with this bill that we passed in the House … we did not repeal.”

Despite being maligned by some audience members, Blum went on to say many people’s health insurance situation will not change.

“If you work for a company that’s providing health insurance today, under this new bill, nothing’s going to change for you,” he claimed. “If you’re on Social Security or Medicare today, nothing’s going to change, if you’re on Medicaid today, nothing’s going to change.”

The congressman, who sits on the House Committee of Oversight and Reform, was asked several times about his position on investigations into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

With Russia, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Committee and the Justice Department, three organizations, are all investigating if there’s collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia,” he said. “So far, there’s not been evidence of collusion.”

Blum said he does believe Russia tried to influence the 2016 presidential election, and that the United States tries to influence elections in other countries.

When asked if he would support an independent investigation into collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, Blum said he would not, for the time being.

“No, not at this current time,” he said, adding “If Trump was guilty of something, would he fire the FBI director?”

Blum was also inquired about his stance on climate change, which 97 percent of climate scientists say human activity has contributed to.

“The Earth has warmed in the last 20 years,” he said, arguing that the Earth has gone through heating and cooling periods naturally throughout its 4.5 billion year existence. The planet is greener today than it’s been in the last 20-30 years.”

These comments, too, were met with derision from many in the crowd, who showed red cards in disagreement with many of his statements on climate change.

“Big oil companies fund studies that say it’s not a problem, the government funds the other 97 percent of the studies, and scientists know if they give the government the answer they want, they’ll get more in grants,” Blum said.

Additionally, he said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “has done a lot of good things” but “the EPA is [an] out-of-control federal agency.”

Audience reaction

The gathered audience Thursday contained many people who disagreed with many of Blum’s statements, while others showed support.

“It’s kind of disappointing that the opposition is not really accepting the fact that, as they say, we won and they lost this time,” said Republican Joe Ludley of Marshalltown. “It’ll be interesting if nationally things changed, maybe get the swamp drained.”

He added that he approved of Blum’s “yes” vote on the AHCA in the House.

Conversely, Melbourne resident Sue Smith, who was diagnosed with cancer last year and is currently insured under the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan, said she has serious concerns about language on pre-existing conditions.

“It’s very stressful for me to have to worry everyday what the government’s going to do, whether or not I’ll still have health care coverage,” she said. “It sounds like, at this point, they’re going to pass it down to the states to make the final decision (on pre-existing conditions).”

One self-described “resistance group,” Indivisible Iowa, was also present at the event. The group members from Iowa Senate District 36, handed out green and red cards to show approval or disagreement with statements at the event.

“We want people to be civil,” said Indivisible co-leader Gary Zmolek, who later led a rendition of the song “We Shall Overcome” with several audience members before Blum entered the gym.

He described the group as anti-Trump, but wanted to let Blum have his say and to have an open discussion at the town hall.

“We’re here because we are passionate about these things,” Zmolek said. “We want a chance to speak, and we want Congressman Blum have his say … and we want more people to have a chance to be heard.”

The Marshalltown event was the last scheduled town hall-style meeting for Blum in May. The congressman has faced recent criticism over requiring photo identification at events to ensure only First Congressional District constituents are able to enter.

The AHCA has moved from the House to the U.S. Senate, and the ACA (Obamacare) is still the law of the land.