U.S. Sen. James Lankford was met with hearty applause and only mild disagreements Tuesday night during a town hall meeting at Oklahoma Christian University, striking a bipartisan tone and receiving little rancor in response.
The town hall meeting in an OC recital hall was as close to a home game as Lankford, a former Christian camp leader who lives in Oklahoma City, could have hoped for. The home crowd of about 200 people laughed often and disagreed with him rarely over the course of an hour.
When a man in the crowd asked where Lankford draws a line after “six months of scandals” involving President Donald Trump, the Republican corrected him: “Actually, about eight months.”
“I don’t think the president’s helping bring the volume down,” Lankford said of the nation’s discourse. “I think he’s throwing gasoline on the fire with his communications.”
“I don’t want my children to speak that way. I don’t think it helps,” he added.
The senator said he will not respond to every tweet the president sends but repeatedly told the crowd here that he disagrees with Trump’s communications. Lankford said his Christian worldview dictates that he respect all people, even those with whom he disagrees.
The public meeting was Lankford’s first since community conversations over Congress’ Easter break. Since then, the GOP-controlled Congress slogged through what U.S. Rep. Tom Cole called “the summer of our discontent” and left a pile of contentious matters unresolved.
After failing to repeal the Affordable Care Act, congressional Republicans have faced discontent at town halls across the country from conservatives critical they failed and liberals critical they even tried.
Health care was the only topic which brought cheers and jeers from the crowd. One man urged the senator to support single-payer health care, a suggestion that grew sustained applause from a couple of dozen people.
“The challenge with that is innovation and who makes the decision of who gets health care and what you are going to get. There are some very smart people in Canada and the UK, as well. They’re still working on how to crack that,” Lankford said, referring to countries with similar health care systems.
The attendee followed up by asking Lankford if he would support a single-payer proposal in the Senate.
“Take a guess, based on how I just answered,” the senator quipped.
“I don’t support it, and some of that is really innovation” Lankford added. “I do think we’re smart enough to be able to figure out a free-market system where we can have a safety net that does provide a real safety net for people that need it but still allows the incentives to fund medical research.”
The final question of the afternoon was also about health care reform. A man asked Lankford for the status of attempts to reform the ACA and questioned why there are partisan disagreements in Washington.
Lankford called the Senate’s failure to repeal the ACA “a big, ugly, epic fail.”
“There are areas where we just don’t agree,” Lankford said of Democrats and Republicans. “It’s not, ‘Oh we hate you.’ We don’t agree philosophically.”
“I don’t believe in a mandate for the employer and for the individual and I think the best place for oversight of health care is in the state. That’s a philosophical difference,” he added, a line that drew grumbles from many in the crowd. A few people clapped. One woman shouted, “No!”
On other topics, Lankford found common ground with the crowd. In response to a question about the need for infrastructure spending, the senator called such spending “extremely important” but said he is reserving judgment until he sees legislation.
Lankford sidestepped a question about immigration and funding for Trump’s campaign promise to build a massive wall along the southern border with Mexico. Lankford said a multifaceted approach to immigration is needed, with cameras, more border agents and immigration reforms.
Trump announced on Aug. 21 that the U.S. will maintain a limited fighting force in Afghanistan. Lankford, who did not offer a detailed comment at the time of the announcement, was asked about the 16-year war Tuesday night and called it “an extremely complicated situation.”
“My goal for that is similar to what we’ve done in Iraq,” he said. “The American forces have been out of the fight and the Iraqis have been taking the fight to (the Islamic State).”
“I don’t think we should have Americans in harm’s way in another country unless it is a direct challenge back to our national security,” he added. “Unless there’s a connection there, we should be out of the way.”
When asked by a constituent, Jeannine Lowery, if Republican plans for tax reform will be successful this year, Lankford said, “I think so. That’s the major focus and I really think that’s going to occur. Will it be as expansive as I would like for it to be? Probably not.”