Hundreds show up for Rep. Ted Budd’s ‘meet and greet’

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About 200 people showed up at the Marriott Downtown to talk to US Rep. Ted Budd on Friday. (photo by Jordan Green)

Jaime Brown, a Greensboro housewife, saluted US Rep. Ted Budd for his vote on repeal of the Affordable Care Act during a three-hour “meet and greet” on Friday morning that drew about 200 constituents.

“I was very happy that you were a no vote, even though it was probably for different reasons than I would,” said Brown, who is the direct action team leader for the progressive group Indivisible.

As he told several constituents, the Republican congressman said he opposed the American Health Care Act, which was pulled from consideration by Speaker Paul Ryan due to lack of Republican support, because it did not address rising monthly premiums.

Brown went on to tell her congressional representative that she disagreed with his position in favor of de-funding Planned Parenthood.

“My concern is that Speaker Paul Ryan is trying to make sure federal funds don’t pay for abortion, but the Hyde amendment already ensures that,” Brown said. “What you’re really doing is preventing funding for mammograms, Pap smears and STD testing for low or no-income men and women.”

After speaking with Budd, Brown said in an interview that when she was in college she relied on Planned Parenthood for STD testing and birth control, and that she wants to make sure those services remain available to the next generation.

“I appreciate that he was honest,” Brown said. “He eventually said, ‘I don’t think we should fund Planned Parenthood because even if the Hyde amendment already prevents it, the funds are fungible and it still supports the infrastructure of the Planned Parenthood.’ I think he’s wrong. He also said that he supports women’s care and that for the uninsured there are other organizations that provide those services. I haven’t run across any, and I’ll be following up with his office to get that list.”

Healthcare and allegations about Russian interference in the 2016 election were the most widely cited concerns during the event, with many though not all expressing disappointment that the congressman chose to receive people one on one rather than in a traditional town-hall format. Upwards of a dozen people attempted with limited success to make the event into a town hall by sitting on the floor and shushing the crowd so Budd’s responses could be heard. Some of those close to the huddle called out the topic for the benefit of the audience. Constituents waited for 15 to 20 minutes in the huddle waiting their turn to speak with the congressman, while those on the outside strained to catch snippets of the verbal exchanges.

“I’ll speak up so everyone can hear,” Susan Andreatta of High Point told Budd.

“I think it’s most important to have an independent investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia,” she said, prompting a burst of applause from several people nearby.

“I think the best thing we can hope for is bipartisan,” Budd responded. “I don’t think you’ll see independent. The Republican and Democratic co-chairs of the intelligence committees are going to have different views, and together they’ll get to the bottom of it. Maybe you’ll see something different a month out.”

Wayne Morgan of Lexington, who lost his job and went for two years before receiving a diagnosis for Parkinson’s disease, said the Affordable Care Act saved his life. Thanks to the legislation signed into law by President Obama in 2010, Morgan said he was eventually able to get a diagnosis and to run an MRI.

“All I’m asking you to do is when you go back to Congress, be the first Republican who goes to the Democrats, and says, ‘Let’s make Obamacare better,’” Morgan told Budd.

Steve Bird, an entrepreneur who runs a mail-order business out of the Forge in Greensboro, likewise urged Budd to support legislation to improve rather than dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Ultimately, Bird argued, the United States should move to a universal healthcare system to meet a moral obligation to care for the sick and bring the country in line with the rest of the industrialized world.

Bird described the format of the constituent event as “a train wreck.”

“I think it was set up on purpose to be that way,” he said. “Only those like me that have a booming Irish voice that was meant to be heard over my 20 siblings in a hovel in Ireland could be really heard over anybody. If you didn’t have a loud projecting voice, then he was having a series of one-on-one conversations where he wouldn’t have had to be held accountable for his answers to any one person because no more than maybe a half a dozen people would have actually heard the answer that he gives.”

Melanie Bassett of Greensboro, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, said the format was not accommodating.

“For disabled people, that was a wipeout,” she said. “When I came in here there were no chairs, so I was in effect denied access. That’s illegal. We had to ask the hotel to bring chairs in.”

Budd told reporters after the event that he prefers the intimacy of the “meet-and-greet” format, but wouldn’t rule out a town hall in the future.

“I serve in the people’s house and I represent the people so they get a chance every two years if they don’t like how I represent,” he said. “Also, I would say this gets me closer to people who have more private concerns, and they may not want to share them in a larger format. We like the face-to-face contact. They can ask questions and they can ask follow-up questions. We think it’s actually more freeing to do it like this.”

He added that he’s happy to accommodate people with disabilities by coming to them, or they can visit at one of his two district offices.

Not everyone who showed up for the event was urging the congressman to preserve the Affordable Care Act.

“We would like to see a healthcare [reform] bill passed,” Maria Novak of Greensboro said. “We want them to become unified. Back the president. Get a bill passed. May need some work; nothing’s perfect. Too many people are dependent on this, but we want them to pass a bill.”

Fred Phillips, a retired financial advisor from Greensboro, said he came to give Budd encouragement, adding that with less than 100 days in office he deserves a chance to learn the job. Phillips said he hopes the Republican Congress will eventually pass legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“We’re paying for a lot of medical costs with only a few people paying,” he said, “and it drives the cost up.”

Two concerns raised by Devin King of Greensboro fell outside of conventional partisan politics: He told Budd he wants to see the influence of lobbyists curbed in Washington, and opposes any US military interference against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. President Trump recently launched a missile strike against a Syrian airfield in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by Assad’s forces against civilians.

“I believe Assad should stay in power because he is a leader that can keep his country stable, understanding that there are multifaceted wars going on; we don’t know who is fighting who is for who,” King said. “At the end of the day, we need to get out of there and let him dictate the way his country is ruled.”

Budd’s response was conditional.

“If it creates more stability, what can we do to keep him under tight control and not allow him to commit atrocities and stabilize his country, that would be a good thing — if he stayed in power,” Budd said. “If he cannot be that person, then regime change is necessary.”

Lex Alexander, a communications consultant, was among those urging Budd to back an independent investigation into President Trump’s possible ties to Russia.

“It was a clusterf***, and you can quote me on that,” Alexander said, leaving the event. “This was not a town hall. This was a long string of individual cocktail conversations without the benefit of booze. He was obviously working to ensure that there would be no viral video of this to hurt him. Sadly, he was mostly successful.”