In front of a raucous, bitterly divided crowd, U.S. District 26 rep. Michael Burgess, R-Pilot Point, held what he said was his 100th town hall meeting Thursday evening in Braswell High School in Aubrey.
The crowd of approximately 300, which included prominent Denton activists like Amber Briggle and Kelli Barr and prospective Democratic candidates to replace Burgess Linsey Fagan and Will Fisher, was eager, partisan and unruly, and ended up stealing the spotlight for much of the event. Viewers were crammed into half of Braswell’s basketball court, with liberal and conservative sections forming directly in front of Burgess on his left and right, respectively. The crowds seemed to duel over who could cheer and jeer the loudest at either Burgess or his mostly left-leaning group of questioners.
Some of the night’s most contentious moments happened immediately when Burgess faced two questions about the investigation into ties between President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia. Seventeen different U.S. intelligence agencies agreed as far back as October that Russia was actively interfering with the presidential election on Trump’s behalf, and the question of whether or not Trump or his campaign managers participated with the foreign country has hung over the administration its entire existence.
Most recently, it was revealed that Trump’s son, Donald Jr., along with senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign manager Paul Manafort, had met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016 on the promise they would receive compromising information on opposing candidate Hillary Clinton. Earlier this week, Congress passed sanctions on Russia and other nations with special language that would make the president seek congressional approval to ease them by an overwhelming majority in both the house and senate. Burgess was one of 419 representatives to vote for the sanctions, with just three voting against them.
In the town hall, Burgess was immediately asked whether or not he would meet with a foreign national offering incriminating information on the opponent and whether or not he would vote for an independent investigation panel should Trump fire special investigator Robert Mueller. Burgess met the first question with a joke, asking, “What are you offering?”
“I don’t know if someone had posed that question to me in October of 2002 if I would have provided interest. That’s not the type of thing that most people think about on a daily basis,” he said. “When you’re on a campaign, you’re in it to win it.”
Burgess was non-committal about what he would do if the administration fired Mueller, calling it a hypothetical. Mueller would be the second official fired in the process of investigating connections between Russia and the Trump campaign after former FBI director James Comey was let go in May.
Burgess also fielded two questions about the American Health Care Act, the Trump administration’s attempted healthcare reforms that Burgess helped write the first version of. An OBGYN before he was elected in 2002, Burgess is the longest-serving doctor in Congress and served on the subcommittee on health from 2011 to 2016, spending two of those years as its chairman. The Congressional Budget Office estimated his plan would leave 23 million fewer Americans insured 10 years down the line as opposed to keeping the ACA. Burgess disputes those numbers.
“This law has never been popular because it was coercive from the get-go, and that’s not what this country is all about,” Burgess said, referring to the ACA’s individual mandate that fines Americans for being uninsured. “How about insurance companies sell products that we want rather than we be forced to buy stuff that we don’t? That’s what’s called a ‘market system,’ and it does work.”
When the questioner, Frank Arben, pressed for Burgess’ thoughts on the market system that existed before the ACA was passed, Burgess said it had significant problems, all of which were made worse by Obamacare. An estimated 16.9 million more Americans signed up for healthcare because of the ACA’s passage as of 2015, but the law’s exact impact is difficult to pin down for a variety of reasons.
Burgess took questions about a wide variety of other issues as well, including transgender rights and local air quality.
Burgess will hold a 101st town hall meeting Saturday, Aug. 5 at 9 a.m. in the Colony High School auditorium.
Several democratic candidates are already running to oppose Burgess for re-election next year, in addition to competition in the Republican primary.
Full video of the town hall can be found on Burgess’ Youtube channel.