Concerns over repeal of the Affordable Care Act and immigration policies took center stage during a town hall meeting hosted by Democratic 2nd District U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger Wednesday evening held at the Towson Library.
Billed as a "Congress on your Corner" meeting, Ruppersberger said he had organized the Towson and other meetings because he was hearing from constituents concerned about what is "going on in Washington," and wanted to make himself accessible.
"It's people power," Ruppersberger said referring to the rallying of those politically engaged constituents. "And I think we need to use that the right way."
More than 100 people attended the event where they were invited to ask questions and weigh in on federal issues.Many people at the event told Ruppersberger, a former Baltimore County executive, who is now in his eighth term as a U.S. representative, they are concerned with new policies of Republican President Donald Trump.
Rodgers Forge resident Terry Bouton, and his fiancee, Noelle Cook, asked Ruppersberger about what he saw as an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, which the Trump administration is working on to repeal. Ruppersberger said he was against privatizing health care, but was vague about what he saw as a replacement to ACA.
"At this point my priority is to make sure we continue with health care, whether its single-payer or not, whatever is best for our country that is where I will be," Ruppersberger said.
Rocio Masset, of Owings Mills, expressed concern over what she called "intimidating" actions on the part of local immigration enforcement officials.
"[Immigration Customs Enforcement] with their big black trucks and in their uniforms stand in the roads where [immigrants] have to drive to go to work ... and there are people not able to work because of that scare tactic," Masset said.
Ruppersberger said the nation must find a way to give its 11 million undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. He also pointed out that Trump has said he is sympathetic to young undocumented immigrants who could be covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. According to the Department of Homeland Security website, that policy allows the department to "exercise prosecutorial discretion as appropriate to ensure that enforcement resources are not expended on low priority cases, such as individuals who came to the United States as children and meet other key guidelines."
"Let's hold [Trump] to that," Ruppersberger said.
Ruppersberger said he is concerned about the amount of power assistant to the President and White House chief strategist in the Trump administration Steve Bannon holds, including Bannon's role on the National Security Council. Ruppersberger sits on the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, which deals with government expenditures.
"What I'm seeing with Bannon is, he is basically kind of taking control of this country, and Trump's allowing him to do that, and it's really concerning me and scaring me," Ruppersberger said.
Maryland's state legislature is currently considering a ban on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, commonly called fracking, in the state. Ruppersberger said he currently opposes fracking but that he has security concerns about the nation's dependence on foreign oil, saying he would consider fracking if technology develops in a way that makes it safe for the environment.
Discussion arose also on gerrymandering — referring to oddly shaped districts in the state including Ruppersberger's district, which some say have been drawn to sway elections in Democrats' favor.
Ruppersberger's 2nd District includes parts of Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard, and Harford counties.
Ruppersberger's district includes parts of Towson, but the core of Towson is virtually split in half between Ruppersberger and Democrat Rep. John Sarbanes, with Sarbanes representing the core west of York Road.
Ruppersberger said redistricting should be addressed on the national level so that Maryland Democrats do not risk losing a seat in Congress.
Maryland's members of Congress have been urging Republican Gov. Larry Hogan to push for national redistricting reform, but the governor said he prefers advancing his own legislation, designed to end gerrymandering in the state, a spokesman told the press Wednesday.
Congress is in recess until Feb. 27, and nationwide, representatives are using the break to meet and solicit feedback from constituents
After the meeting, Ruppersberger clarified to Bouton and Cook that he supports keeping ACA entact. But the couple said they thought the congressman lacked passion when discussing health care and other national issues.
"He said nothing," Cook said. "He basically recited the status quo."
Jonathan Alcox, a Middle River resident and a Democrat, said after the meeting that he appreciated what he called a bipartisan tone at the event.
In addition to the Towson meeting, Ruppersberger held a town hall in Randallstown at 10 a.m. Wednesday.