U.S. Rep. Mark Walker opened his Sanford town hall Tuesday by saying that his constituents could ask “whatever’s on your heart ... whatever is on your mind.”
The crowd did.
A proposed wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and the American Health Care Act were the primary topics discussed at Tuesday’s event, the third part of Walker’s four-stop town hall listening tour across his district, at the Sanford Public Works Department.
This was Walker’s first town hall in Lee County, which was added to the state’s 6th Congressional District before the 2016 election. Walker carried Lee in the GOP primary and general election, defeating Democrat Pete Glidewell in November. The event required tickets, which were free, and was listed as “sold out” on the event’s webpage.
The first question was about the border wall, with a woman asking Walker to “please not waste our money on a wall” in light of other “pressing needs” such as health care and Social Security.
Walker said “securing the border” has had “bipartisan support” in the past, referencing drugs coming across the U.S.-Mexico border and the need to stop them. Many in the audience put up red pieces of paper, signifying their disagreement with his position.
“You may disagree with that, but that’s actually factual truth,” he said. “The wall isn’t the No. 1 priority, but securing the border is a priority as we move forward. I believe it’s a priority to many different people, yes.”
He was pressed on the wall a couple more times during the event. He later added that he was in favor of removing convicted felons who were in the country illegally.
“I’m not for mass deportation,” he said, citing his two decades as a minister. “I am a Republican, but I hope from a compassion standpoint, my faith requires me to see people in a different light ... (Deporting convicted felons), I think that would make sense, for some of us anyways.”
Near the end of the event, he brought up “radical Islamic terrorism” as a threat that requires border security.
“There are places that a wall is best,” he said. “I think there are places that from surveillance, it’s more about securing the border and not about a wall. These people want us dead.”
The crowd of about 100 was mostly against many of Walker’s statements, especially those regarding the American Health Care Act.
One questioner asked Walker to list three reasons why he voted for the bill. He said that the GOP majority has been promising to repeal the Affordable Care Act for years, the ACA hasn’t been working as well as it was predicted and the repeal of $980 billion in taxes.
“The ACA is not the solution for health care options when it comes to people in our country,” he said.
Walker’s answers did not seem satisfactory to audience members, who jeered and waved red cards.
Another constituent asked him why he voted for the AHCA as quick as it was with no public feedback and without a score from the Congressional Budget Office. Walker responded that the crux of the bill had been public for 18 months as part of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s “Better Way” plan.
“It should be run past the American people,” Walker said. “This is something that’s been working in the last year and a half. It was not just politicians in a room crafting the bill. There was other input received in the last year and a half.”
He added that the CBO’s score wouldn’t have changed much from the first version of the AHCA, which he publicly opposed, and that “the CBO doesn’t always get it right.”
Walker also said that he didn’t think sanctuary cities “should be harboring people who had broken the law” and that he was against “strip(ping) away all of the funding” from entitlement programs, but for cutting government discretionary spending.