Spanberger discusses healthcare, gun control, climate at Henrico town hall

HENRICO CITIZEN, CASSIE COUGHLAN

Constituents often delivered prepared, three- or four-part questions, and U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger obliged with answers during her well-attended town hall meeting at J.R. Tucker High School April 18.

It was her first town hall in Henrico and her fourth in the Seventh Congressional District since she took office earlier this year. Discussions ranged from healthcare to the minimum wage to immigration, as local citizens aired their opinions and inquiries.

Spanberger, who graduated from J.R. Tucker in 1997, was generally received warmly by her hometown crowd. When the audience particularly agreed with a statement, its members did not hesitate to show support for their representative with an enthusiastic round of applause.

“I like a good question that requires that I take notes so I can address it,” she said at one point, looking up from her scribbled notes to meet a chorus of laughter.

Spanberger explained actions she has taken to address climate change, which she described as “an absolute threat not only to our environment but to national security.” She characterized the proposed Green New Deal – a stimulus proposal that seeks to spur the economy while slowing climate change –as “broad sweeping goals but not actual policy.”

Though the audience generally shows support for Spanberger, a vocal group of opponents probed her with questions periodically.

“Will you be joining the president in securing the border and maintaining our sovereignty?” one asked, describing the situation at the border as a “crisis” and insisting that action must be taken.

Spanberger replied by listing immigration reforms she’s voted for, including the provision of additional judges, Customs and Border Patrol officers and infrastructure. She emphasized the importance of addressing backlogged asylum cases and detecting drugs at ports of entry.

Speaking with reporters before the event, Spanberger characterized her most significant accomplishments to date as “doing what I said I would be doing, which I think is a pretty low bar to be setting, but I think it’s important.”

For example, she said, she kept her promise not to vote for Democrat Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House.

“I said I was going to work in a bipartisan manner to address the concerns and challenges facing our community, I did just that,” she said. “I said I would meet with and work with the president if it would help my constituents, and I was part of a very small bipartisan group that met with him to try to address the issues of the shutdown.”

A constituent asks U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger a question during Spanberger’s town hall meeting at Tucker High School April 18.

A constituent who said he was a 15-year resident of the district, expressed displeasure with high federal taxes, high healthcare premiums, the integrity of government as an institution and the question of presidential impeachment.

“Every day under this administration, we see how the government institution – and I’m a federal retiree – is slowly destroying the integrity of their function,” he said.

In response, Spanberger spoke about her disapproval of the 2017 tax bill and the difficult choice many people face between putting food on the table and paying for doctors’ visits. She stated emphatically her opposition to using federal workers’ salaries as a negotiating tool.

Spanberger also spoke about her support for a universal background check gun law that could target some undocumented immigrants, arguing that if prohibited buyers (those who are on the government’s radar) attempt to buy a weapon, the government should be notified.

Another attendee asked Spanberger about one of her commercials that featured a type 1 diabetes patient the constituent believed was portrayed inappropriately. The woman also criticized Spanberger’s approach to health insurance. Spanberger defended her beliefs, though the constituent remained unsatisfied.

Several other residents brought up other healthcare-related concerns, and one sent a murmur through the crowd with a unique question about Congressional term limits.

Russell Swartz, the communications director for Freeman High School’s Young Democrats, attended the event and asked a question.

“We want to hear from our Congresswoman that she’s fighting for us,” he said. “We cannot vote yet, but we still will be stuck with the burden of climate change and the rising deficit of our country.”

Throughout the session, representatives from National Nurses United and the Democratic Socialists of America made their presence known by holding up signs reading “Medicare for All” and “Tax the Rich,” even chanting the latter during one of her responses.

Afterward, there were mixed responses. DSA members Nathan Arries and Carolyn Fisher, who attended on behalf of National Nurses United’s Medicare for All campaign, wanted to ask for her support for the House Medicare for All bill, but they did not get the chance. However, Fisher said, “we did hear some compelling stories tonight that really demonstrate the need for medicare for all, and the fact that healthcare should not be about profit.”

Another resident, Judy Harrell, a former teacher at J.R. Tucker who voted for Rep. Spanberger, was “most impressed by her command of the issues and her literate and her kind approach to everyone’s questions.”

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