Debating politics in America can be a fraught endeavor, as displayed Friday night at a town hall meeting hosted by Maryland’s only Republican member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Andy Harris.
A few dozen people came out to the Kingsville Volunteer Fire Department in Baltimore County on a cold, dark night for face time with the congressman.
Some wanted to praise Harris for his vote two days earlier against impeaching President Donald J. Trump. Others came to needle Harris for his support of the president.
At times, tempers flared and supporters and critics of the congressman talked over each other. Harris threatened to throw out a woman who shouted criticism from the back row when others had been called on to speak.
Afterward, Harris estimated the crowd was a “slight majority” of Trump supporters, with the rest opposed. That’s a change, Harris said, from his town hall meetings right after Trump was elected, when about 90 percent “disagreed with me and the president.”
“It’s a stark difference,” he said.
The first few speakers offered praise for Harris.
“Since you’re the one who stepped up and showed courage ... I just had to come down here and just say one word to you, two words: Thank you,” said one man seated in the front row.
But the meeting soon turned as speakers pressed Harris on his support for the president. One man described Trump as having “no morals, no language skills.”
Harris first answered critics by encouraging them to vote in the 2020 election if they don’t like Trump. “What’s beautiful about this country is every four years, we actually get to make that decision again,” he said.
Others took a more intense approach.
“At what point are you going to stand up and speak up against the corrupt, lawless president that is sitting in the White House?” asked a woman.
She was not satisfied with Harris’ response that his constituents didn’t support impeachment, and neither did the facts of the case, in his view.
“You need to go, just like Trump needs to go,” she said flatly.
A few minutes later, the meeting devolved into cross-talk and finger-pointing. Harris told a woman in the back row who had been shouting that he was going to have to ask her to leave.
“I’ll be quiet,” she promised.
Harris said the woman is an example of what’s wrong with politics.
“The people who think that this president, for instance, ‘Oh my gosh. He’s too loud. He’s too abrasive. He’s too argumentative,' they shout out during meetings,” Harris said. “So I get it. So you want everyone else to be nice and quiet and everyone else to just put up with whatever you want. But you get to shout out. Is that the way the country works? I don’t think so.”
Harris eventually got the meeting to a calmer level when he talked at length about the need to reevaluate Medicare, Social Security and other entitlement programs and ways to rein in the cost of prescription drugs.
Melissa Goldman of Towson said she came away from the town hall “extremely disheartened" though she was glad, at least, that Harris would meet his constituents in public.
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“I felt like he bullied or shut down anyone who disagreed with him,” Goldman said.
During the meeting, Goldman, a former journalist, asked Harris if he agreed with the president that journalists are “enemies of the people.”
“If they do fake news, then they are, yes,” Harris said.
Paul Findeisen of Aberdeen spoke up to thank Harris for responding to an email he had sent and to criticize Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who played a key role in the impeachment process.
He said he wasn’t too bothered by those who criticized Harris and Trump, comparing them to people who are “in a traffic jam and in a hurry,” so they get worked up.
Clearly, some people were intent on raising issues with Harris.
“Those that wanted to get that out, they got it out,” Findeisen said. “Good for them."