Democracy is not always pretty, with proof of that being a raucous town hall held Wednesday (Feb. 22) in Springdale by U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.
Cotton took questions from a crowd of more than 2,000 people who chanted, “do your job,” booed when in disagreement and applauded when he said something they liked. Others were holding signs against President Donald Trump, and some had signs in support of Cotton – although a clear majority of the signs and crowd were not supportive of Trump or his actions since becoming president.
Several questions centered on Trump, such as what Cotton would do to make Trump show his tax returns, investigating Trump’s campaign and administration or Trump’s comment about how the media are the enemy.
To the latter point, Cotton said, “No,” and received a round of applause. While Americans might be opponents of each other, they are not each other’s enemies, he said. Also, he explained how more than 61% of Arkansans voted for Trump and him not releasing his tax returns was an issue discussed before the election. Regarding an investigation into the campaign, Cotton said, “I’m already part of that very inquiry you’re talking about” as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The town hall began late as people were still making their way into Springdale High School’s Pat Walker Performing Arts Center, and as it filled to capacity people had to wait until others left before being allowed inside. The location of the event had been moved twice as the number of people who had planned to attend rose, requiring a venue that held more than 2,000 people. It was Cotton’s first town hall like this since the presidential inauguration.
At one point, a woman who was asking a question said she wasn’t a paid protestor, and Cotton said that he didn’t care whether people were paid to be there because they are all Arkansans.
During a media interview prior to the town hall, Cotton said just as it was wrong to be dismissive of the Tea Party when it began to form to oppose the actions of President Barack Obama, it is wrong to dismiss groups forming to oppose President Trump. When asked about allegations from conservative radio talk show hosts that recent town halls have been mostly populated by organized protesters, Cotton said he did not share that allegation. He said being organized is part of the democratic process, and being organized does not diminish speech rights.
Cotton offered one of the first questions during the town hall to an Arkadelphia man after asking who drove the farthest to get there. He asked Cotton about climate change. Cotton explained how the Earth’s climate had warmed up and how the rise of industry over the past 200 years has contributed to that, but that greenhouse gases have fallen over the past two decades. He was booed when he promoted “new coal-fired technologies” and booed again when he brought up the Fulton plant, implementing the technology. But when he spoke about solar, wind and hydroelectric power, he received applause.
Former Fayetteville Mayor Dan Coody spoke about how clean coal is a “myth,” and Americans spend twice as much on healthcare than other nations, which could show the way for the future of healthcare. Cotton said the United States has moved from coal to natural gas, which is a cleaner energy, and people come to the United States for its healthcare.
Regarding healthcare, Cotton was asked about the Affordable Care Act and whether he would commit to its replacement in the same fashion that he’d committed to repealing it. When he tried to move on to another healthcare question, the crowd responded with chants of “do your job.”
He said “I’m committed after replacing Obamacare.”
He went on to say how everyone in the room has been either hurt or helped by the Affordable Care Act, but wasn’t here to defend it or deny that it’s helped Arkansans. He wants to see everyone “have access to affordable care.”
One woman spoke about how she and three others in her family would be dead if not for the act, while another attendee explained how her health insurance costs have doubled in the past three years.
Cotton was also asked about fighting to reduce the U.S. debt in the face of a proposal to build a $20 billion border wall. The question received a lengthy round of applause and cheering. He said “not every dollar of government spending is an equal dollar. The most important thing is security and safety.” The government must first budget for its military, and the crowd booed. Cotton reiterated his point, saying “it’s the most important fundamental thing that we get right.” Having secure borders is an important part of “our security and safety.”
He was later asked about how Trump has spoken out about Mexico.
“We want Mexico to be a healthy, strong partner,” Cotton said. “We also protect our citizens.“