It was the first time the North County Republicans held forums with their constituents since Donald Trump became president, and in San Diego, like many parts of the country, the congressmen were met by opponents of the new administration’s agenda.
Healthcare was a major topic of concern at both town halls.
In Oceanside, before taking the stage in front of a crowd of 500 constituents, Issa spoke with a few people, including a 10-year-old Orange County boy who asked whether Issa would guarantee that he would have affordable healthcare.
Issa told the boy he’d asked the question “exactly” the right way, noting that the child used the word “affordable.” He promised healthcare would be a topic of discussion at future town halls.
Outside the auditorium where Issa spoke, 100-plus people waved signs and chanted, “This is what democracy looks like.”
Most were concerned about a proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act and other Trump administration policies. Inside the sometimes raucous meeting, when Issa referred to the healthcare act as “Obamacare,” the crowd jeered and some yelled its official name.
“It’s not affordable,” Issa responded.
At one point, when Issa referenced the situation with Russia, in which the country interfered in last year’s elections, some in the audience chanted, “Do your job!”
The first town hall ran about an hour. The second, with Hunter, was longer and noisier.
Healthcare was still the common thread during the 90-minute discussion in Ramona, in which attendees sometimes shouted at each other and exchanged insults.
Crowd estimates ranged from 300 to 400 at the Ramona Mainstage, and hundreds more lined up outside, most of whom were protesting Hunter as well as Trump. The Sheriff’s Department estimated about 1,000 people total at the event.
Hunter said he isn’t completely satisfied with the new American Health Care Act, which was introduced earlier in the week. But he said generally supports the replacement plan because he thinks it will make insurance cheaper, and therefore, more accessible, than the Affordable Care Act.
“We know it is going to disrupt the market,” Hunter said. “I don’t believe in guaranteed healthcare. I believe in guaranteed access to healthcare that people can afford.”
But he sometimes antagonized the crowd. When people booed one of Trump’s policies, Hunter sang a line from Queen’s hit “We are the Champions” in response.
Answering a question from the galley, he said he would not support an independent investigation into Russian interference in last year’s elections, but he said he does back various investigations by Congress.
The intelligence community, Hunter said, is filled with “seditious Obama folks” who “hate Donald Trump as much as you do” and are trying to undermine the administration.
“I would think you would be for freedom and liberty, not for an Orwellian government, which is what we have right now,” he said.
He said he believes that Trump’s emails and communications were intercepted when Obama was in office, but when questioned by a reporter, he later said he has no proof of that claim.
In a tweet earlier this month, Trump said Obama had wiretapped his phone. The White House has not provided any explanation or support for the claim, which Obama and his intelligence officials have denied.
Sheriff’s Deputy Jerry Hartman said an extra 14 deputies were brought in to help manage the crowd and traffic, but there were no arrests, despite some heated tempers.
The congressman’s father, former Rep. Duncan Hunter, spoke with people waiting outside. He said the protesters were upset about the outcome of the democratic process and weren’t being fair to the new administration.
“You’re seeing folks who were on the losing side who have decided to protest rather than give the president a chance,” he said. “To some degree, they are disrespecting democracy.”
A push for the town halls has been brewing. Every Tuesday for the last few months, a couple of hundred people have gathered outside Issa’s Vista office, demanding the congressman meet with them.
Less intense crowds have appeared outside Hunter’s offices in Temecula and El Cajon.
About two weeks ago, Issa surprised the protesters by making an appearance outside his office. For about 90 minutes, he took questions from the crowd, which included about six dozen Trump supporters.
The unexpected event came hours before a town hall organized by activists who wanted Issa to address their concerns about promised changes to the Affordable Care Act. Issa was invited but did not attend that event, citing a scheduling conflict.
Figueroa and Stewart write for the San Diego Union-Tribune.