U.S. Rep. French Hill and Sen. Tom Cotton are meeting the people this afternoon at a brief town hall event at the Embassy Suites in West Little Rock. The event, set to start at 2 p.m., is open to the public. You can watch a livestream of the event on our Facebook page. There are 700-800 citizens on hand, according to a comment from Cotton.
I’ll offer some liveblog notes on highlights in real time; David Koon and photographer Brian Chilson are on the scene and will be offering a full report shortly after the event. Update this post for liveblog.
The livestream was down for the opening but it’s now up. Cotton is making the case for President Trump’s actions in Syria. He is always most comfortable and most passionate advocating for a hyper-interventionist foreign policy. Sounds like lots of Republican fans have showed up to cheer. Hill says, “America needs to lead…our world is a more dangerous place when America is not leading.”
A citizen from Little Rock asks why Republicans are willing to spend billions of dollars to fight unwinnable wars in the Middle East but are eager to cut every program that helps Americans in their everyday lives. Hill offers a dull civics lecture about the role of Congress in reply. Shouts from the crowd: “Do your job!” Cotton says keeping Americans safe has to be the ultimate priority.
A questioner asks why Congress won’t take the initiative to force Trump to release his tax returns. “As far as I’m aware, the president says he’s still under audit,” Cotton says, laughably. Cotton repeats Trump’s own curious case that since he won the election, he has no responsibility to be transparent to the people who elected him. The crowd seems unpersuaded.
Hill, even more laughably, argues that Trump has already made a thorough disclosure of his financial interests. I don’t use that adverb. Here, watching at home, I laughed!
A citizen suggests that Republicans pay attention to the interests of low-income folks. Hill says that he’s okay with all that as long as there is local control of federal programs. He doesn’t mention, curiously, that the actual platform he supports imposes massive funding cuts for programs that help the poor and massive tax cuts for wealthy folks like Hill himself. Cotton says that the right answer is charities. Cotton, too, strongly supports massive funding cuts for pretty much every program that helps low-income people.
“You sold us out,” says one citizen to Cotton, regarding the major contributions that he has received from the telecommunications industry and his apparent disinterest in internet privacy measures.
Snapshot analysis: French Hill is not particularly good at politics.
A citizen asked about the Cole-Bishop amendment regarding vaping; neither Cotton nor Hill had heard of it.
Cotton was asked why he voted against the Violence Against Women Act. Cotton said it had constitutional problems.
An LGBT farmer said that Cotton and Hill had voted against her at every turn — as a domestic violence survivor, as a woman, as a farmer. Hill notes that he wasn’t in Congress when the Farm Bill passed. Cotton complains about the evils of food stamps.
Snapshot commentary: The concept of a town hall is a beautiful thing, but the execution of these as major media events is just a cacophony of noise. I think it would be in everyone’s interests to think about how to improve these events. Not sure what the answer is.
Tea Party fanatic David Crow of Conway says he’s thrilled with everything Trump has done. He says that he sure wishes that corporate taxes would be cut. Hill finally shows some life! He loves talking about corporate tax cuts! I truly enjoy when politicians hell bent on lowering taxes for the rich focus on simplicity. Then they skip right past the nuts and bolts of what someone like Hill wants to do: cut services for folks with less money so that they can enact massive tax cuts for people like French Hill. It’s simple!
Lot of shouts from crowd about Mar-a-Lago, wasting money on building the Wall, etc. And a chant: “Lock him up! Lock him up!”
A citizen asked whether they could define where Trump’s foreign policy is going. Good question! I predict Cotton and Hill will define it as what they happen to want it to be. Hill said that the various plutocrats appointed to leadership positions made him comfortable with Trump’s direction. Nothing comforts Hill like a billionaire. “They’ve had constructive influence thus far,” he said. Cotton said that Trump has adopted a “peace through strength model.”
Competing chants of “Lock him up” and “U.S.A.” Sometimes, popular democracy will reduce us to wrestling fans.
Cotton was asked whether he supported repealing the Affordable Care Act, which would take away health insurance from 300,000 Arkansans (that’s the approximate number of citizens in the state covered by the Medicaid expansion). Cotton said that he still supported repealing the ACA. But he disagreed that repealing the ACA required taking health insurance away from those 300,000 Arkansans. In fact, he said he opposed the recent House repeal-and-replace bill in part because it would do just that (via eliminating the Medicaid expansion). Lot of spin in his answer, but the key takeaway: Cotton says he still wants to replace Obamacare but he seems to be committing, in practice, to protecting some version of the coverage expansion achieved in Arkansas via the private option (also known as Medicaid expansion). That’s an important political story.
Cotton and Hill were asked about their position on the state’s attempt to execute eight men on death row. Cotton said it was “liberal judges and lawyers and washed-up celebrities…are trying to interfere with the justice system in the state of Arkansas.” Hill was asked about his position specifically as a Catholic. “There are a lot of strong emotions and strong emotions on both sides of this issue,” he said. “I have in my personal view, there are some crimes that are so heinous that juries of their peers and judges need to have the ultimate penalty available to them under the law.”
Cotton and Hill were asked about providing relief or forgiveness for student loan debt. Hill said the focus should be on personal responsibility. Cotton said the answer was less focus on four-year colleges and more vigorous economic growth.
Cotton was asked why he was more vocal about the Benghazi attack than the Russian hacking scandal. Cotton said he believed the Russian government was behind the hacking and said that he would follow the facts wherever they led.
Cotton and Hill were asked about Dodd-Frank. It’s interesting to see the few questions that Hill really shows passion on. This is one. Hill, a ferocious defender of Wall Street interests, has a full stump speech ready to go on the evils of government regulation of the financial industry.