Paul Ryan Town Hall: Afghanistan, Racism, Health Care

RACINE, WI — Speaker Paul Ryan held a town hall Monday night, aired live on CNN, in his Congressional district in Racine. CNN’s Jake Tapper began by asking Ryan for his reaction to President Trump’s announcement on the new Afghanistan war strategy, which includes a likely rise in troop numbers, increased pressure on Pakistan and more.

Though the president’s speech on Afghanistan revealed no specific plans, Ryan said he was pleased with the decision, and with the way Trump went about making it, to send more troops to Afghanistan. “It’s high time we have a more comprehensive strategy,” Ryan said, after noting that for the past 16 years, we’ve had “16 one-year strategies.”

It is expected that about 3,900 additional U.S. troops will be deployed to Afghanistan, increasing the force to about 12,000. For comparison, the U.S. footprint in Afghanistan was at its largest in 2010 when there were about 100,000 troops deployed there.

The first question of the night came from a former Army sergeant who deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. He wanted to know if there were any plans for an end date for America’s longest war.

“If they believe we have some end date, some time table, then they will wait us out and they will come back and fill that vacuum with terror and that is why I think it’s important that we don’t… telegraph our time table,” Ryan said, noting that Trump’s new “conditions-based” plan for victory is more effective than setting an exit date.

Speaker Ryan released a statement on Facebook on Monday hours before the town hall, condemning the manner of Heather Heyer’s death as an act of “domestic terrorism,” and noting that there cannot be the “slightest ambiguity,” when it comes to denouncing hate groups.

A constituent asked Ryan if he would condemn Trump’s initial statement in which he said there was violence on “many sides” in Charlottesville. “I do think he could have done better. He needed to do better,” Ryan said.

“I do believe that he messed up in his comments on Tuesday, when it sounded like… moral ambiguity when we need extreme moral clarity,” he said, adding that the problems of racial violence in America are “so much more important” than partisan politics. “This issue speaks to humanity… Every single one of us needs to unify and stand up against this repugnant, vile bigotry.”

Ryan contradicted Trump’s statements that there were some “fine people” protesting alongside neo-Nazis and white supremacists. He said that if somebody is among a crowd with swastikas and anti-Semetic slogans, “you’re not a good person,” adding that Trump’s equivocating of the two sides was wrong and that he was pleased that Trump “cleared it up.”

A local Rabbi asked Ryan what steps he would take to hold the president accountable when he makes statements or supports policies that embolden racism and anti-Semitism. She asked if Ryan would support the resolution to censure Trump for such acts.

“I will not support that. That would be so counterproductive,” he said, questioning the effectiveness of participating in “some political food fight.” After he refused to support an official censure of Trump, Ryan went on to condemn racism and bigotry.

Tapper dug deeper, asking Ryan to forget about parties— Trump is “giving aid and comfort to people who are fans of losing, discredited, hateful ideologies.”

Ryan doubled down on an earlier statement, saying it’s important not to get into a “partisan food fight” and condemned hate and violence.

Pardeep Kaleka lost his father in the 2012 Oak Creek Sikh temple shooting. He asked Ryan how a man, who was a known white supremacist and was on the radar of several agencies, was able to legally purchase a firearm and three extended clips six days before the incident. “What are we doing to prevent and intervene… the far right extremism and white supremacist sympathizers?”

“We have to do a better job to make sure criminals don’t get guns, or that people who are suspected of terrorism, like domestic terrorism, don’t get guns,” Ryan said.

He then backed his support for the Second Amendment, saying that it’s important for law-abiding citizens to have access to firearms.

A Ryan supporter asked the Speaker a question about the Affordable Care Act and why it is that, after many campaign promises, Congress has not been able to repeal it. “I had high hopes… what happened?”

Ryan mentioned the embattled health care bill passed by House Republicans in May. “We’re waiting for the Senate.”

“The reason I’m disappointed is because the status quo is not an option,” he said. “Obamacare is not working… So doing nothing really isn’t an option. So the Senate — honestly, the Senate has to get back and keep at it. And so what I’ve been telling our friends in the Senate, get back to work, get a bill passed.”

Ryan then described other bills that the House has completed, seemingly in an attempt to explain that they have not been complete failures as lawmakers. “There’s lots of distractions out there… a lot of people just don’t know” of the work they’ve done to hold their promises.

The town hall ended with Ryan answering a question about what it was like to speak with Steve Scalise, who was shot practicing for a baseball game in June. “It was very emotional for us,” Ryan said. “He’s going to be okay… it was extremely cathartic for all of us.”

Article image Adam Glanzman/Getty Images News/Getty Images

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Originally published August 22, 2017.

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