Florida congressman faces raucous crowd at town hall meeting

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ENGLEWOOD, Fla. (AP) — It took about three minutes for the majority of the crowd at Florida Congressman Tom Rooney's town hall meeting Monday to start booing about everything from the environment to health care.

"You are supporting an appropriations bill to help clean up the Everglades. You recently voted to repeal a rule that allows coal companies to dump toxic ash in waterways throughout the whole country. Would you care to explain?" one man asked.

"We don't live in a perfect world," said the Republican congressman, standing alone in front of a podium on stage at the Englewood Event Center.

And that's when the shouting started.

"That was quick," quipped Rooney, who's in his fifth term in Congress and represents a swath of rural and suburban counties in the middle of Florida, roughly from Lake Okeechobee to the east and toward Venice on the Gulf Coast.

Little more than a month into President Donald Trump's administration, Republican members of Congress are returning home to encounter crowds of concerned and, at times, raucous voters, pressing for explanations of the president's plans for health care, immigration policies and cabinet appointees, among other things.

Those subjects came up repeatedly at Monday's two-hour event. At times, it devolved into a holler-fest between Rooney, anti-Trump voters and pro-Trump voters.

Said Rooney, throwing his hands in the air: "So you want Trump to fail?"

The crowd screamed and clapped. One person yelled, "Yes, he already is failing!"

A Trump supporter screamed a response from the back: "You people suck!"

It appeared that a majority of the 300-strong crowd were retired, white and opposed to Trump. People grilled Rooney on the Affordable Care Act, pleading with him not to vote for a plan that doesn't cover pre-existing medical conditions. Rooney replied that any health care revision ought to cover pre-existing medical conditions.

Another person asked what, if anything, Congress or the voters could do to prevent further erosion of the public's trust. Many who attended, Republicans and Democrats alike, said they'd like to see the country less polarized, but that didn't stop them from shouting their frustrations about the opposite party and politicians in general.

"A lot of people think that being a member of Congress is somehow us riding around in limos," Rooney said. "I'm not looking for sympathy. Our approval rating is below Fidel Castro's, and he's dead."

Several asked about Trump and Russia, and whether anyone on Trump's campaign team was influenced by Russian operatives.

Rooney, who's on the House Intelligence Committee, said "we have zero evidence that the Russian government and the Trump campaign coordinated in any way."

The 46-year-old congressman also offered some dire predictions about Social Security and said it must be fixed, otherwise younger generations will be out of luck.

"I don't care if you're Republican or Democrat, if you hate my guts or if you voted for me. I'm telling the truth. If we don't fix our retirement programs now, I'm not getting Social Security," he said. "Do you not want that for your kids and grandchildren?"

The room erupted in various shouts about "the cap."

Asked whether he wants to see Trump release his tax returns, Rooney said he believes presidents should do so.

He added, however, "The people didn't care. He's president."

"We care!" people chanted.

"We don't care!" A man in a Make America Great hat yelled.

In the end, everyone agreed on one thing: Rooney showed guts, standing up in front of a room full of angry voters. He said he was going to Washington on Tuesday to vote, and walked off stage to a smattering of applause.


Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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