U.S. Representative Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, held a town hall meeting Tuesday night where his constituents hammered him with questions on topics from foreign policy to climate change, but one topic took up most of the oxygen.
Health care dominated the conversation at the Aug. 22 event at the National Weather Center in Norman as Cole defended his vote in favor of the Republican Party’s health care plan.
Audience members booed at the mention of the proposed Republican health care bills, which died in the Senate in July. Cole blamed the failure on Republicans in the Senate, saying senators’ desire to avoid the issue led to the effort’s “spectacular flameout.”
“There were frankly too many senators who wanted the bill to fail in the House, and didn’t do anything to help,” Cole said.
Cole faced a passionate crowd that overwhelmingly disapproved of the Republican attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
At one point, constituents demanded to know what kind of health care Cole had, and yelled in favor of universal health care. In response, Cole said he was skeptical of the Congressional Budget Office’s forecast that 22 million would lose health coverage should the ACA be repealed.
Cole’s criticism of the CBO’s health care score ranged from saying it was “misleading” to saying it could be “enormously off.” The CBO had millions of Americans losing coverage in every iteration of the Republicans’ health care legislation this year.
“We did a lousy job messaging,” Cole said of the Republican efforts to pass the bill.
Cole broke from Trump several times during the evening and said he makes it clear when he disagrees with the president. Cole espoused a starkly different opinion on climate change than Trump’s administration.
“I don’t think there is any doubt there is climate change — I think the science is pretty clear. We can debate over how to deal with it,” Cole said.
Cole also broke from the Trump administration by supporting the continued investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia. Cole said although he does not believe there is evidence of collusion, he does believe Russia interfered with the 2016 election.
The crowd rewarded Cole with applause when his opinions differed from Trump’s, and booed when Cole spoke in support of the president. Several crowd members wore shirts reading “not my president.”
Cole said he expected some of the hostility.
“People are very divided in the country, and people feel very strongly. In Norman, people were even this fiery under Obama. But at their base, Oklahomans are pretty decent,” Cole said.
Cole also said he supported Trump’s approach to tensions between the United States and North Korea.
“I would actually argue that Trump has been more successful with North Korea in this short time than anybody else,” Cole said, prompting audience laughter.
Cole said China and Russia sanctioned North Korea “for the first time” under Trump.
Cole said he has upcoming town hall events in Lawton and Midwest City, and hopes to come back to Norman in the future.