U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder defended President Donald Trump’s competency and his own vote in favor of a controversial health care bill Tuesday during his first in-person town hall since Trump took office.
Yoder, an Overland Park Republican facing a tough re-election fight in 2018, fielded questions on a wide range of topics, from LGBT rights to the country’s 16-year-old war in Afghanistan during the event at Olathe City Hall, which was hosted by The Kansas City Star.
But the issues of health care and Trump’s performance during his first year as president were repeatedly raised both inside and outside of the town hall, where a mix of Yoder supporters and critics gathered.
Christy Crossley, an attorney from Fairway, questioned Trump’s competency and asked Yoder about removing Trump through office by the 25th Amendment, which allows the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet to declare the president unable to perform the duties of the office.
Yoder said during President Barack Obama’s time in office, he received phone calls from constituents asking him why Congress had not impeached Obama and that now he receives the same questions about Trump.
Later in the town hall, Yoder faced a question about how he can trust Trump on big things when Trump lies on small things.
Yoder tried to pivot to Obama, prompting boos. “I don’t know who lies in this country,” Yoder said, before adding he trusts that Trump is sincere in his desire to help the country.
The 110 attendees were selected at random from nearly 2,000 entries. Questions were submitted via Facebook Live. Yoder did not have access to the questions ahead of the event.
Yoder also faced barrage of health care-related questions three months after casting a key vote in favor of controversial bill that would have stripped 22 million people of health coverage. Yoder pushed back on the accuracy of the estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.
An Zebley, a small-business owner from Shawnee, asked Yoder a question about what Congress should do to stabilize the Affordable Care Act insurance markets.
Yoder said that unlike some of his Republican colleagues, he does not support allowing the Affordable Care Act to collapse.
“This isn’t about scoring political points. This is about doing something that makes the health care system better,” Yoder said.
Zebley didn’t feel Yoder fully answered her question.
“I didn’t think he would,” Zebley said. “I feel that it’s all just lip service.”
Yoder should hold another town hall at a larger venue, or hold them more often, as U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas does, Zebley said.
“It would at least feel like he’s giving us a chance to express either our approval or frustration because even if he doesn’t answer the questions, he still has to hear them,” she said.
Outside of the town hall, roughly 80 protesters and counterprotesters gathered.
Rachel Fustini, a rare disease patient advocate, came as a protester because she wasn’t able to get into the town hall. She held a sign saying, “Yoder come outside 4 the real town hall.”
Yoder “is not listening to constituents on Trumpcare and also in general,” Fustini said.
Theresa Hyde, a 61-year old retired health care chief information officer, couldn’t get into the town hall but came as a protester to express her displeasure with Yoder for voting “for that horrendous Trumpcare bill.”
“I’m a huge supporter of Medicare for all and have been for a long time,” Hyde said. “He keeps saying it’s socialized health care. He likes to use that as a scare tactic, and I find that very offensive. It’s public funding of private health care.”
Among the counterprotesters who came to support Yoder was Yvonne Starks, a retired sales manager from Olathe. She said she likes Yoder “because he’s his own man. ... He doesn’t always vote the way I want him to vote, either, but he has really done work in the community.”
Starks said she understands why Yoder sometimes distances himself from Trump — she knows he’s running for re-election in a district Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton narrowly won in November.
“But I think he needs to stand up for him more, too,” she said.