LINCOLN — Sen. Deb Fischer was confronted Thursday with continuing concern over health care policy that sometimes bordered on fury during a town hall meeting in Lincoln that attracted more than 250 people.
The first question out of the gate at what Fischer prefers to describe as a listening session asked Nebraska’s senior senator why Republicans wouldn’t attempt to reach a bipartisan agreement with Democrats to amend the Affordable Care Act instead of attempting to repeal Obamacare and strip 23 million Americans of their health care insurance coverage.
“Our friends on the other side haven’t been open” to a reasonable compromise, Fischer told the questioner, sparking a loud round of boos.
Democrats are focused on market stabilization, Fischer said, “and I don’t think that solves a lot of the issues.”
Fischer noted that she encouraged Republican leadership to hold hearings on the GOP plan and she voted to begin debate on the legislation “to get to amendments,” but a GOP effort to repeal major provisions in the Affordable Care Act collapsed when a motion to launch the debate failed.
Questioner after questioner returned to the health care topic during a lively mid-morning meeting at the Jack J. Huck Continuing Education Center of Southeast Community College, while other topics like climate change, trade policy, tax reform and continued protection for immigrant DACA youths were also raised.
Most of the questions were politely confrontational and several participants held up signs challenging Fischer.
One large banner proclaimed “Medicare for All,” and one woman wore a T-shirt that shouted “Lock Him Up,” turning the tables on President Donald Trump’s campaign chant directed at Hillary Clinton, his Democratic presidential opponent.
Fischer expressed differences with Trump over U.S. trade policy and said she supports ongoing investigations into possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race.
“I look forward to seeing what they come up with,” she said.
“I am worried about what may happen to NAFTA,” Fischer said after declaring that “I differ with the president” on trade issues, including his decision to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
The United States, at the president’s direction, is in the process of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. That trade pact provides a huge marketplace for Nebraska agricultural products.
Challenged by one questioner as to how she could continue to support the president when he is “tearing the country apart,” Fischer said: “I do support the president on many, many issues.”
And, she reminded the audience, “Trump carried this state” during last November’s election.
“We’re going to disagree on things,” she told questioners, “but I represent you all.”
Fischer acknowledged that she is “disappointed we can’t get health care done” and added: “I’m a little pessimistic.”
“Everyone should have access to affordable health insurance,” Fischer said, and she agrees that there is “government responsibility for those in need.”
Asked if she would support a bill that would grant DACA youths some form of permanent protection to legally remain in the U.S., Fischer said that’s “a sensitive issue (and) border security should be first and foremost” in dealing with immigration policy.
The predominantly Latino DACA population has legal presence in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive action taken by former President Barack Obama.
Although there were occasional shouts and interruptions, Thursday’s meeting remained orderly with a visible police presence.
Among the signs that occasionally were held up was one supporting Jane Raybould, who will likely be Fischer’s Democratic challenger in 2018.