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GOP lawmakers face rowdy town hall crowds

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BLACKSTONE, Va. (AP) - Republican U.S. Rep. David Brat, who rode voter anger to a historic political upset nearly three years ago, was on the receiving end of constituent angst about the Trump administration as he held a town hall in Virginia.

Protesters and supporters crowded a restaurant conference room in Blackstone where Brat fielded questions for about hour Tuesday. He was loudly heckled and booed when he defended President Donald Trump and his policies on health care and immigration, with the occasional cheer from supporters of his positions on gun rights and fewer regulations.

The former economics professor said he enjoyed the feisty give and take.

"People are very nervous and anxious after the Trump win. So my goal tonight is to help allay some of those anxieties," said Brat, who defeated then House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a 2014 GOP primary.

Brat's town hall was among several as GOP members of Congress returned home this week on break to their districts around the country.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn returned to her Tennessee district and was greeted by similarly tough questions and protests at a town hall about 30 miles from Nashville.

"I have always said, you may not agree with me, but you're always going to know where I stand," Blackburn told people outside Fairview City Hall afterward. "Having a good, solid, respectful debate, that is something that serves our country well."

A month into Trump's presidency, protests continue over his immigration policies, Cabinet selections and the GOP's push to repeal the Affordable Care Act, without all the specifics on how to replace it. At the town halls, people are asking their lawmakers to see if they will veer from some of Trump's more controversial stands, and if they will promise coverage for those currently served by the Affordable Care Act.

Brat said Republicans are still working on what a replacement of the Affordable Care Act would look like, but said current proposals being considered will cover those with preexisting conditions and include a two-year "transition period" so no one suddenly loses current coverage.

Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday to address the town halls.

"The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!" he tweeted.

In two small Iowa towns, overflow crowds similarly lobbed questions Tuesday at Republican Sens. Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst.

About 18,000 callers participated in a telephone town hall with suburban Chicago Rep. Peter Roskam, who has been criticized for canceling smaller in-person meetings and declining debates. Many Republican lawmakers have opted against holding public town halls, instead organizing conference calls or meeting privately.

People booed in Montana when Sen. Steve Daines rescheduled for Wednesday a planned speaking appearance. And at a protest town hall in Allentown, Pennsylvania, home of Sen. Pat Toomey, the protest group called Tuesdays with Toomey hung an empty suit in place of the senator.

Freshman GOP Rep. Scott Taylor on Tuesday held his second of three town halls this week in his Virginia district. Taylor did not begrudge any fellow Republicans who declined to host town halls, saying they can be a legitimate security concern. But Taylor said it's important to give people a "seat at the table."

Elsewhere, a conservative East Texas Republican congressman chose to forgo town hall forums before constituents for fear of drawing anti-Trump protesters.

Even the most powerful member of the U.S. Senate faced jeers from nearly 1,000 as he arrived Tuesday to address a group of local business leaders. In Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, they chanted as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell entered the American Legion Post 34 Fairgrounds in a black limousine.

McConnell said he was "proud" of the demonstrators for expressing their views but told the mostly friendly audience inside that the protesters "had their shot," adding: "Winners make policy and the losers go home."

Rep. Louie Gohmert said in a statement that he was concerned that "groups from the more violent strains of the leftist ideology ... who are preying on public town halls" would "wreak havoc and threaten public safety."

Instead, Gohmert said he is holding "telephone town halls" in which he can communicate with thousands in the time it takes for him to appear live before 30 to 100 constituents.

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