Drowned out at times by chants of "Do your job," U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, faced a crowd of more than 1,000 people at an early Friday morning town hall who booed, criticized and yelled while he responded to pointed questions on topics from health care to the Syria bombing.
As the audience at North Medford High School said the Pledge of Allegiance, a majority cried out the word "indivisible," a reference to the Indivisible movement that is resisting the agenda of President Donald Trump.
One audience member responded by saying, "That's very disrespectful."
Another person took exception to the screaming and yelling as he attempted to ask Walden a question.
"Aw, shut up," he told the crowd.
Walden cautioned everyone in the audience, "Let's respect each other."
The Republican congressman, who pointed out that this was his 141st town hall since 2012, started out with a short introduction and said, "We look forward to a vibrant discussion here."
Despite the sharp questions and pointed remarks, Walden remained calm and attempted to answer the questions thoughtfully, though many audience members criticized him for acting too much like a politician.
"He continually went back to these stock answers that make him look good," said Jennifer Hall, 39, of Ashland. "Quite frankly, he's a good politician. He keeps himself calm, he dresses the part, but clearly what he believes is not what most people in this room believe."
Richard Divita, 74, of Central Point, said, "In general, I felt like Congressman Walden sidestepped a lot of the questions."
Kevin Husted, 39, of Medford, was part of a sizable contingent of Walden supporters who came away with a different impression of the congressman's responses.
"Walden did a great job," he said. "His calmness, the way he dealt with the crowd, was amazing. His integrity just comes through in the way that he talks."
Penny Greene, 66, of Buncom, said she thought Walden didn't do a good enough job responding to questions about Trump's wanting to build a wall with Mexico and his refusal to release his tax returns.
"We really need to see his taxes to see how Russia has a hold on him," Greene said.
Health care was one of the dominant issues on the minds of many in the audience, who questioned why a carefully crafted Republican plan hadn't been put forward after five years of complaining about the Affordable Care Act.
"Actually, there has been a lot of work done on health care," Walden said.
He said he worked on bipartisan legislation last year that helped expedite new medicines to market, invested in the National Institutes of Health and helped rewrite mental health laws.
"We are trying to get those mental health services into our communities," he said. "Yes, we need to do more on saving the market as the Obamacare exchanges are collapsing before our eyes."
A man identifying himself as a Republican, who was cheered on by the crowd, said to Walden, "I would like the Congress to hold the executive accountable. As we refine health care for Americans, I would like a health care plan that is applicable to all Americans, including Congress."
Walden responded, "Absolutely agree in terms of putting members of Congress on the same health care plan that people on the exchange are. By the way, we are, and I voted for it."
Walden said he and his wife are in an Obamacare exchange in Washington, D.C., and he pays $799.82 a month with a deductible.
He asked the audience how many wanted a single-payer, government-run health care system, and a majority cheered their support for the idea.
Another audience member, who identified herself as a member of Indivisible, asked Walden whether he would hold Trump accountable for collusion with Russia during the election and urged creation of an independent commission.
"I don't want any country involved in our elections, period, especially not Russia," Walden said. "Whoever is involved, we should follow the trail and hold them accountable."
He said that Congress is investigating the issue because it has access to highly classified information.
"That's the best place to start," he said. Walden said he doesn't support a bill that would create an independent commission, eliciting boos from the audience.
One man, who identified himself as a Republican, criticized the audience for shouting down Walden so frequently. He talked about Walden's "graciousness in the face of such disrespect."
Other audience members wondered what Walden will do to stop Trump from sending missiles into Syria.
"Will you call on Trump to obtain authorization from Congress before he strikes again?" one man asked.
Walden said Trump is commander-in-chief and has exercised his right to engage in military action, as have previous presidents. Walden said the Syrian bombing was the appropriate response.
"Assad (president of Syria) is a monster," Walden said. "He deserves what he gets."
Walden, responding to a question from the audience, said the House Energy and Commerce Commission, of which he is chairman, doesn't have jurisdiction over investigating violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which relates to members of government receiving gifts or other consideration from foreign powers.
"You're addressing the wrong commission," Walden said.
He was booed again, and the crowd chanted, "Do your job."
— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.