Dean Heller took questions from angry constituents Monday
The Nevada Republican senator was grilled on health care and President Donald Trump
He is the GOP senator facing what's likely to be the most difficult re-election race in the midterms
Sen. Dean Heller got the yelling he’d expected Monday morning.
In a two-hour town hall, the Nevada Republican was pressed to defend his positions on Planned Parenthood, his hesitancy to reject the GOP plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and even his Easter Sunday post on Facebook in which Heller quoted Ronald Reagan
Heller was drowned out by chants of “yes or no!” and “answer the question!” when hundreds of crowd members saw his answers as evasive.
Vivian Leal, a 51-year-old Reno mother who said she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999, pressed Heller the hardest – interrupting and demanding specifics when he talked around her question about whether he will oppose any legislation that revokes Obamacare’s protections for those with pre-existing conditions and that directs those people into high-risk insurance pools.
“You give fuzzy answers,” Leal told Heller. “They ask you direct questions and you evade them by saying, ‘we can have a dialogue,’ ‘we can talk about that,’ ‘we can take a look into that.’ Those are not answers. They don’t tell us where you stand or how you’ll vote or not vote.”
She complained that she wrote a “thoughtful letter” detailing her experiences with the American health care system – but received a form letter back.
When Heller touted he had “rejected the Republican plan” to repeal Obamacare, Leak pressed Heller again.
“Yes or no? High-risk pools, that’s my question,” she demanded. “Don’t give me a fuzzy answer. High-risk pools – that’s my question. Please answer it.”
The crowd loudly chanted “yes or no!” at Heller.
“I will support high-risk pools, because there are some people who want them,” the senator said, drawing boos. He added that he wants to make sure everyone has “access to the health care that you want.”
Heller is the Senate Republican facing what’s likely to be the most difficult re-election race in the 2018 midterms. Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in the state in 2016, and Democrats – who have to defend 10 Senate seats in states Trump won – see him as the ripest GOP target.
In a joint town hall with Republican Rep. Mark Amodei, Heller faced a rowdy crowd that Reno police pegged at 600 – with hundreds more outside, unable to get into the filled-to-capacity room at a local convention center.
He also faced terse questions – and accusations that he was dodging them – on GOP efforts to block federal dollars from flowing to Planned Parenthood because some of the organization’s clinics provide abortions as well as women’s reproductive care.
Heller invoked community health clinics as part of his answer to a question about whether he would protect federal funding for its services through programs like Medicaid.
“At the federal level? Yeah, we’ll continue – we’ll continue to look at this issue,” Heller said, drawing more jeers.
“I will protect Planned Parenthood,” he said. He then qualified his answer by saying he’d support funding for the organization for specific health care services.
Heller said he supports leaving decisions about whether to allow the organization to receive tax dollars to the states. “When the federal funding does come to the states, that the states (should) have the right to make the determination” of how it’s used,” he said.
For the two-hour and 20-minute town hall’s second half, Heller largely did what he’d told donors at a luncheon last week he planned to do: Let Amodei, the co-host of the town hall, do most of the speaking.
Amodei fielded questions on land rights, single-payer health care, Trump’s spending on Mar-a-Lago trips and more without Heller weighing in. (Heller did, though, stick around for 25 minutes afterward, greeting everyone who approached him one-on-one.)
The two faced exclusively critical questions from the overwhelmingly progressive crowd – though one man who wasn’t called on stood in line and shouted “murder!” each time Planned Parenthood was brought up.
At one point, after Heller recited his office number to the crowd and told questioners to call him, audience members responded that his voicemail has been full for weeks.
Heller broke with Trump and Republicans on some issues – saying the deep domestic spending cuts Trump proposed will not end up in Congress’s spending bill, which he said “will look nothing like the President’s budget.”
He also said he is “not a climate denier” – but was jeered by audience members who pointed to his vote to confirm climate science skeptic Scott Pruitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
“When Scott Pruitt is right, I’ll support him,” Heller said. “When he isn’t right, I’ll change his mind.”
One questioner even forced Heller to defend his Facebook account.
Heller’s Facebook page included an Easter Sunday post quoting former President Ronald Reagan as saying: “Republicans believe every day is the 4th of July, but the Democrats believe every day is April 15th” – a reference to tax day.
A questioner asked Heller how he could possibly help solve problems in a bipartisan manner with that attitude.
“I am a conservative,” Heller said. “I do quote Ronald Reagan.”
The woman shot back: “Do you read the quotes before you post them?” She asked if the post “supported an indivisible country or made it a bit more divided?”
“I don’t think Ronald Reagan was divisive,” Heller said.
Heller declined to answer CNN’s questions after the event. His staff said he was short on time, but Heller said it was because “we don’t want to step on our message.”