Dave Brat faced a rancorous crowd at a town hall Tuesday night that took issue with his positions on health care, Russia investigations and, frankly, most other topics.
Dave Brat is one of a small group of Republicans holding town hall events during the weeklong recess for the House of Representatives, just days after the chamber passed the Republican-led health care bill. Loud opposition from liberal activists was anticipated at the event, and the audience lived up to those expectations.
Attendees — the vast majority of whom identified themselves as supporters of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders last year — were enraged over the congressman’s answers on a range of issues, especially health care and investigations of President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.
In an exercise done at other town halls across the country, people brought red items — bandanas, paper fans, red ribbons — to express disapproval of Brat’s answers and green items to express approval. Some had small signs that read: “Shame,” “nope” and “resist.” Others played “Brat Bingo,” checking off boxes when he said words or phrases that he tends to repeat.
Brat polled the crowd early on at the event, asking how many people in the room voted for Clinton last year. An overwhelming portion of the room, which had at least 500 people, raised their hands, with many, if not most of them, standing up and cheering for the former Democratic presidential nominee.
When Brat continued asking about presidential candidates, the crowd exploded into chants of “Read the questions!”
Virginia State Sen. Amanda Chase, who hosted the town hall and sat on stage with Brat, grew impatient.
“Alright, be quiet,” she said sternly, as the audience grew even more irate. She asked for two security guards to come stand in the back of the room.
“I would be quiet, or you will be politely escorted out,” she warned the audience. “This is my town hall now. So sit down.”
But her approach ignited a new wave of fervor among the room.
One woman in the back jumped up from her seat and shouted over and over again: “This is MY town hall!” A man in front of her shouted out, “sorry, mom!” to the state senator, sharing a sentiment with many who felt Chase was being condescending.
The situation grew so tense at points that obscenities were shouted both at Brat and at other members of the crowd. One man jutted out his middle finger at some Brat supporters when they tried urging others to be quiet. A few people held up red signs of disapproval when the opening prayer was being delivered at the beginning.
For an hour and a half, Brat tried to address 35 questions that were submitted on yellow index cards and read on stage by a moderator.
The congressman voted for last week’s health care bill and defended it with lengthy, in-depth policy arguments, but he hardly expressed any enthusiasm for the legislation, which is now making its way through the Senate.
“I don’t think people get that excited on policy,” he told reporters, when asked how he’d rate his excitement for the bill.
Brat conceded that people often get excited in opposition to certain policies — as demonstrated in Tuesday night’s town hall. “But on policy itself? I mean,” he trailed off, before turning to another question.
As news broke about the firing of FBI director James Comey, Brat also faced jeering when he refused to cast blame on Trump in the investigations over his campaign’s ties to Russia.
“In this country you’re innocent until there’s evidence,” he said, as the crowd booed with dissatisfaction. “And so we have pursued oversight until the evidence comes in. And on the unmasking, there is evidence coming in, and we’re getting it.”
The most passionate sat in the front, right in front of Brat. One man repeatedly called him a “liar.” Some jumped to their feet over and over, yelling and gesticulating with their whole bodies at the congressman.
For Brat’s part, he occasionally expressed frustration with the near-constant interruptions. “Sir, enough on the volume level. I got it,” he said to one man in the front row.
But he largely stuck to his tone of knowing confidence, using professorial mannerisms.
Much of the frustration over health care involved an amendment in the bill that would allow states to opt out of requirements to keep coverage affordable for those who have pre-existing conditions and who let their insurance lapse.
Brat faced multiple questions on Russia but declined to respond specifically to the firing of Comey when he spoke to reporters afterward the event, saying he needed to read up on the news.
The audience grew furious when Brat was asked about protecting LGBTQ children from bullying and the congressman argued there are already laws on the books that do so.
“Anybody that’s being bullied, you bring them to me and we’ll take action immediately,” he said, as people in the crowd bemoaned his response. One woman yelled out that she could be fired from her job if her employer found out she was gay.
“No bullying is allowed — period,” Brat continued. “I’ll go to school, I’ll go to bat for you in any way you want on discrimination or bullying.”
As he ended his town hall and started to walk away, some in the crowd sang, “Nah nah nah nah, hey, hey, hey, goodbye,” a recently used jeer from Democrats to imply Republicans will face being ejected from office during the next round of elections due to their stances on health care.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Brat described the energy in the room as a “post-President Trump effect,” saying voters were mad that Trump won and were taking it out on him.
How can the division be solved?
“With love,” he said. “That’s all that matters.”