Republican Congressman Andy Harris drew a large crowd Wednesday to his annual town hall meeting in Bel Air, which he again said drew the best participation of any such event in his district.
Harris, who represents Harford County, the Eastern Shore and parts of Baltimore and Carroll counties, blasted what he called President Barack Obama's failure to control skyrocketing health care costs, national debt and general economic decline.
"Unfortunately, the leadership in Washington, the leader in Washington, gave an address two weeks ago and said, appears to be saying, 'This is OK; the economy's OK.' It's not," Harris told the crowd. "There is so much spending built in that it's very hard to change, but I tell you, it has to start at the top."
He also highlighted his unconditional support for Second Amendment rights and his concern about vetting refugees coming to the U.S., in reply to a handful of questions from visitors that Harris spent about an hour answering.
About 80 people filled Bel Air Town Hall for the meeting, with most seemingly supportive of Harris. Harris' staff had asked visitors to write questions on cards to be read out by the congressman, but a couple of people interrupted and heckled him during his introduction, getting jeers from the rest of the crowd and prompting Harris to threaten to have the individuals escorted out of the building.
One woman loudly disagreed after Harris brought up national security, when he asked if anyone in the room feels safer in the world today and said: "This is an incredibly important issue because I am concerned about security."
When the woman later began calling out by asking about the impact of former president George W. Bush's administration, Harris told her: "Please respect everyone here. We have got a lot of people."
Harris gave an ambivalent answer to a question about Islamic terrorism, saying Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who called for a temporary ban on Muslim immigrants, painted the issue with a "broad brush."
"They have integrated into our society," Harris said about Muslims, but noted: "There is clearly a group of people in the Muslim religion who have thoughts that are antithetical to, more than American civilization, I would say western civilization."
"That is a minority of people in the Muslim religion. But we have to realize that's what it is," he added.
Harris said he did not believe refugees coming from Syria could be properly vetted, and "I don't want to worry about who is building a pipe bomb in their garage."
A Washington, D.C. resident at the back of the room, Adam Eidinger, also drew disapproval from Harris and the crowd when he loudly disagreed with Harris' answer about the need to keep marijuana illegal.
Eidinger, who led the campaign to legalize the drug in Washington, questioned the idea of sending people to jail for marijuana, which Harris tersely replied does not happen "unless you are dealing it in large quantities."
Eidinger said, "I'm growing marijuana in my house right now in Washington, D.C." and argued thousands of people had been jailed in the district for it.
After being booed by others in the crowd, Harris threatened to ask him to leave before regaining control of the meeting.
June and Jim Carr, of Monkton, were among those who said they came to the meeting because they were concerned about Social Security and disability benefits being given out.
June Carr said, "It's becoming another welfare program," and said she appreciated learning more of Harris' perspective on a variety of topics.
"It's good to hear from our representative what his position is on certain subjects," she said. "I don't always agree with everything he's done, especially when he voted for the president's budget bill. That really made me mad."
Jim Carr agreed, saying: "They have to stop rolling over for him."