IOWA CITY — Health care was at the top of voters’ agendas at a town hall meeting with U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst in Iowa City on Friday, even as the latest attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act hit a roadblock.
About an hour before Ernst’s public event, Arizona Sen. John McCain announced he would vote no on the Graham-Cassidy health care bill, likely dooming its chances. McCain joins fellow Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky in opposition, meaning the bill cannot lose any more votes and still pass. When Ernst announced the news to the crowd gathered at the Iowa Memorial Union on the University of Iowa campus, she was met with deafening cheers.
Still, audience members made clear health care is a primary concern, asking the senator question after question on the topic. She said she agreed with them that a solution must be found — but the question remains what that solution will be.
She called Vermont Sen. Bernie Sander’s proposal for a single-payer health care system, “a pie in the sky,” questioning how it would be paid for, and said she hopes to find a bipartisan solution going forward. In the interim, she said she worries for families facing rising premiums and loss of choices with just one insurer, Medica, remaining on Iowa’s health insurance exchange for 2018.
Several hundred people flowed into the Iowa Memorial Union for the event, the third town hall this week for Ernst after appearances in Floyd and Wayne counties as part of her 99-county tour.
Johnson County made its status as Iowa’s most liberal enclave known with frequent loud cheers, boos and shouting and a sea of red and green signs reading “Agree” or “Disagree” that audience members waved enthusiastically.
The atmosphere was, at times, verbally combative, but when one attendee thanked Ernst for coming to Iowa City even knowing the reception she was likely to face, the crowd cheered.
After the event, Ernst told reporters she thinks it is important to hear from constituents, perhaps especially so when they don’t agree with her.
“It is important that people can get out and express how they feel about different issues. It certainly does inform me on how people are thinking,” she said. “I know tensions are running high … but Iowa has once again proven that we can have civil discourse, and we can discuss these issues, hear from constituents and do it in a manner that will be productive.”
One audience member who tried to yell out his question and was asked to sit was Emiliano Martinez, a University of Iowa senior and president of Hawkeyes for Dream Iowa, which organized a rally in Hubbard Park after the event. The organization advocates for so-called “Dreamers,” the undocumented young people who were brought to the United States as children. They were given protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — or DACA — program implemented by President Barack Obama in 2012 and rescinded by President Donald Trump in early September. Trump said the program would end after six months and that it is up to Congress to find a solution in that time.
CHARLES CITY | With a Senate vote on the Graham-Cassidy health care bill looming, that topic…
Another person later asked Ernst the same question Martinez was yelling: what will she do to help the Dreamers?
“I do support finding a legal status, a permanent legal status for our Dreamers,” Ernst replied.
Talking with media after the town hall, she said she is aware of three or four bills in the works to address the issue. Ernst said the challenge will be finding consensus and balance on a path forward.
Martinez said he was satisfied by her answer, but remains wary.
“My concerns are for the end line,” he said. “We would hate to see DACA happen but be used to bargain for an increased budget for Immigration Customs and Enforcement or for deporting the parents of Dreamers.”