U.S. Rep. Andy Barr was laughed at, booed, interrupted, scolded and, a few times, praised by constituents who packed inside the Montgomery County Courthouse Annex early Wednesday morning.
The Republican from Lexington heard stories from multiple people who benefited from the Affordable Care Act, and one who was hurt by it. But at the end of his hour-long “Coffee with your Congressman,” which Barr said was his 68th since taking office in 2013, he said none of what he heard changed his mind.
“In fact, I mean, I’m reinvigorated to fix this broken health care system,” Barr said. “I know my constituents who are flooding my office with calls and Obamacare is making life harder for them.”
With Congress in recess, Kentucky’s federal lawmakers have returned to their districts to face constituents for the first time since President Donald Trump took office in January.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was greeted by hundreds of protesters when he spoke to the Anderson County Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, and even faced questions from a few unhappy constituents, a rare occasion for McConnell who typically limits his speeches to friendly crowds.
Trump recently tweeted that angry crowds attending town halls in Republican districts were actually “planned out by liberal activists. Sad!”
But when Barr began taking questions Wednesday after his “update from Washington” was cut short by an impatient crowd, no one raised their hand when asked if they came from outside the 6th Congressional District. Many of the people in attendance said they traveled from Lexington and Frankfort.
For the most part, Barr stuck to his usual talking points. He railed against the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, saying it hurts small banks in communities such as Mount Sterling.
“That’s because they’re being bought by bigger banks!” someone in the audience shouted in response.
He called the Affordable Care Act a failure and said 4.7 million Americans lost their health insurance because of the bill (a number based on an AP article in 2014 that inflated the total).
“Tell the whole truth!” an audience member retorted.
Barr also used a question about infrastructure to make an appeal for lowering the corporate tax rate.
“Trickle-down economics doesn’t work!” came a response from the audience.
Since Trump has assumed office, Barr has voted with Trump’s position 100 percent of the time according to the website Five Thirty Eight. Trump won Barr’s district by 15.3 percentage points.
Some of Trump’s policies, however, have created a backlash in Fayette County, which was one of two counties in the state that voted for Hillary Clinton.
Many of the questions raised by constituents focused on the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans in Congress have promised to repeal and replace.
Barr defended his position to repeal the law. Specifically, he said Kentucky’s decision to expand Medicaid coverage to more than 400,000 additional people has hurt hospitals because they often aren’t adequately reimbursed by Medicaid.
Barr said he thinks replacing the law will enable people to have “great” health insurance, instead of just being covered.
Beth Lowe, a retired teacher who taught at Henry Clay High School, shared a story about a financial adviser who had given her bad advice. Lowe said she is upset with Trump’s move to eliminate the fiduciary rule, which requires financial advisers to act in the best interest of their client rather than seeking the most profit for their business.
Barr, who serves on the House Financial Services Committee, defended Trump’s action, saying the rule “has the potential to compromise access to flesh and blood real advisers” because it opens the door for trial lawyers to sue brokers over poorly performing investments.
“Many of the brokers who are also constituents of mine tell me they will no longer serve constituents like you, so that’s the problem,” Barr said.
People hissed during Barr’s defense of removing the fiduciary rule.
Although angry constituents outnumbered Barr’s supporters, there were some friendly faces in the audience.
One man said he was negatively affected by the Affordable Care Act because his cost of insurance increased. Another said he noticed more coal trucks on the road and said he hopes it means Trump’s pledge to repeal environmental regulations is working.
After Barr was asked if he supports an independent investigation into the allegations of Trump’s ties to Russia, one man in the crowd said he believed many of the questions being asked were “talking points from the far left.”
Though several members of the audience were able to air their grievances, few thought their points stuck with Barr.
“It was like in the Matrix, you know, when the bullets are coming at Neo,” said Drew Bowling, from Lexington, who asked about health insurance. “That’s basically what we just witnessed for an hour.”