Scenes from town halls: Republicans face off with constituents

Angry crowds have packed town halls across the country.

ByABC News
February 23, 2017, 1:18 PM

— -- With the House of Representatives out of session this week, many members have headed back to their home districts to engage with constituents and, in some cases, hold town hall meetings. Some of these events have turned contentious, drawing a response from the White House Wednesday as citizens continue to voice displeasure with their representatives.

Responding to a question from ABC News' Jonathan Karl, who quoted President Donald Trump's description of these audiences as "so-called angry crowds," White House press secretary Sean Spicer portrayed meeting-goers as a "hybrid" of two groups.

"I think some people are clearly upset, but there is a bit of professional protester manufactured base in there," said Spicer, who provided no evidence to support the claim. "Obviously, there are people that are upset, but I also think that when you look at some of these districts ... it is not a representation of a member's district or an incident."

A number of events are still scheduled for the remainder of the week, but here's a list of notable interactions from the events:

Rep. Jason Chaffetz told to do his job

Congressman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, attracted attention in 2015 and 2016 for his committee's investigation of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while she served as secretary of state. Back in Utah, he faced a packed crowd of over 1,000 people at a high school auditorium, where he was serenaded with heckles and chants of "do your job" during a town hall on Feb. 9.

Chaffetz attracted continued attention afterward when he told local paper the Deseret News that he believed some of the attendees were brought in from out of state.

"Absolutely. I know there were," Chaffetz told the newspaper, classifying the commotion as "more of a paid attempt to bully and intimidate." He did not offer any evidence as to support the claim.

Russia on the mind of Rep. Tom Reed's constituency

At two different town halls on Saturday in upstate New York, Rep. Tom Reed pushed back on the suggestion that the Trump administration's connections to Russia needed to be investigated. Over a chorus of boos and objections from some members of his own party in the audience, Reed expressed his opinion that "there is no evidence" of wrongdoing in the executive branch.

In a moment that received some of the loudest cheers, a man told Reed that he hoped the lawmaker would stand up to President Trump.

"Checks and balances are crucial to the American system,” the man said. "You are the checks and balances."

Rep. Scott Taylor sees green and red in his purple district

Less than three weeks into his tenure representing Virginia's 2nd congressional district, Rep. Scott Taylor returned home Monday to a packed crowd, many of whom wore their zip codes on name tags to preemptively combat claims that they arrived from elsewhere.

As Taylor fielded questions about health care, connections between the Trump administration and Russia and his willingness to speak out against the president, some attendees held up green and red signs to show when they agreed or disagreed.

Afterward, Taylor told ABC News that he empathized with fellow legislators who chose not to hold events out of safety concerns, but said he was "not one to shy away from these things."

"I think it is important to give people a seat at the table," said Taylor. "Long term, if safety precautions are taken, I would encourage my colleagues to do the same thing.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell speaks out on the Supreme Court and Twitter

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not hold a town hall Tuesday, rather a private, ticketed event, but it still didn't stop a crowd from showing up to protest the Kentucky Republican.

"Why are they protesting? They didn't like the results of the election … people in our state had a chance to express themselves and they did pretty overwhelmingly," said McConnell inside the event. "They had their shot at the election and they had their shot in Kentucky … winners make policy and losers go home." He added, however, that he was "proud" of protesters and that they had the right to speak out.

McConnell received a number of pointed questions, including one from a woman who said she would sit down "like Elizabeth Warren" if he could answer her question -- alluding to the Senate voting to silence Warren during a debate over Jeff Sessions' nomination for attorney general.

The majority leader mostly ignored questions he disagreed with, but didn't shy away from critiques of the new president, saying of Trump's use of Twitter, "Am I a fan of all of the tweets? ... Use your imagination."

McConnell also admitted that he "thought the next president was going to be Hillary Clinton," in defending his decision not to hold confirmation hearings on President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. Because he thought the Democrat would prevail, he said he "wasn’t necessarily achieving any particular advantage for my side."

Sen. Tom Cotton questioned about health care, public broadcasting

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton faced a passionate crowd in his deep red state Wednesday, who questioned the first-term lawmaker on a wide range of issues.

In two moments that went viral shortly afterward, Cotton heard from a woman whose husband is battling dementia and Alzheimer's, and a young boy seeking to protect his favorite television programs.

"You want to stand there with [my husband] at home, expect us to be calm, cool, and collected." said the first woman, seeking to protect her health-care coverage. "Well, what kind of insurance do you have?"

The young boy, who first explained that he and his family "like Mexicans," told the senator that Congress shouldn't divert funding from the Public Broadcasting Service to pay for reinforcement at the border. As the new administration prepares its first budget, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting could be targeted for cuts, sources familiar with the process have said.

"You shouldn't do all that stuff for just a wall," said the child.

Cotton responded by saying, "You can still have one and have the other."

ABC News' Matthew Claiborne contributed to this report.

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