Sen. Michael Bennet’s Aspen town hall stirs emotional issues
From health care to immigration to North Korea, audience members at an Aspen town hall with Colorado’s Democratic U.S. senator Friday covered most of the hot-button issues in America today.
But two questions from audience members with powerful personal stories related to those first two issues caught the attention of Sen. Michael Bennet, who repeatedly referred to them throughout the hour-plus-long Q&A at Aspen High School.
The first came from a man who told Bennet he pays $1,600 a month for health care for his family of four with a $7,000 deductible for each. The man pointed out he has just one insurance company option for health care in this area, and that all indications are that prices will continue to go up.
If that happens, the man said his family will likely have to “go naked” without health care.
“You’re making choices nobody else in an industrialized country in the world has to make,” Bennet said. “It’s a huge problem.”
Bennet said he supports have a public health insurance option and believes everyone should be able to have the kind of health care members of Congress receive.
“But we’re fighting people who believe socializing the (insurance) risk is socialism,” he said. “It’s not the same thing.”
And fixing the problem will be “very difficult,” he said.
However, in a brief meeting with local reporters before the town hall, Bennet said he’s hopeful the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, of which he is a member, can make a difference in health care reform. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn), the committee’s chairman, has scheduled hearings on the subject for September.
“We should have done that first,” Bennet said. “I’m sorry it’s taken this much time to get here. We just managed to save Obamacare by one vote.”
With those hearings scheduled, the process can now be undertaken in public hearings, he said.
“There’s no better legislator in the Senate than Lamar,” Bennet said.
The second question to elicit an emotional response Friday came from a man who said two members of his immediate family were stuck in Mexico after trying to navigate the immigration process. The family members thought the process was working until an immigration agent at the border denied a waiver they’d received and stranded them south of the border, the man said.
The family members own a ranch, which needs attention, in New Castle and feel as if the government yanked the rug out from under them after they tried to toe the line, the man said.
“This is more important than anything we’ve talked about today,” Bennet told the man.
He said his office receives immigration complaints daily and even has a designated person to try to solve them. Bennet made sure his staff connected with the man and said the Trump administration’s stance on immigration is “antithetical” to the country’s history.
“I really need your help,” the man said.
The escalating war of words between President Donald Trump and North Korea was another area of concern. One questioner asked if American nuclear bombs have “a safety latch on the bottom” to guard against the president’s possibly itchy trigger finger.
“No,” Bennet said. “He’s been elected president of the United States.”
That said, Bennet said he doesn’t know of one Republican “who believes he should be tweeting foreign policy.” It’s far better to emulate former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt, who advocated a foreign policy that walks softly and carries a big stick, Bennet said.
Trump’s actions could be “forcing us to take action we might not otherwise have taken,” Bennet said.
A few questions later, a woman took the anti-Trump sentiment in the room to another level.
“How the hell are we going to get rid of this guy?” she asked to a smattering of applause.
Again Bennet said the rule of law in the United States sets up a process to determine if a president should continue to serve. He said he’d like to see Congress hold hearings on North Korea in the near future.
Members of the audience of about 150 repeatedly thanked Bennet for traveling to Aspen and wondered why his Republican counterpart, Sen. Cory Gardner, hasn’t come around. Gardner was berated by constituents in Durango last week, where he appeared with Bennet and others to discuss the Gold King Mine spill, over his votes to repeal Obamacare.
On Friday, Gardner announced he will hold town halls Tuesday in Colorado Springs, Greeley and Lakewood.
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Many members of the community wrote to laud the former Skico executive and city councilman for his friendship, dedication to family and community-minded spirit over more than two decades in Aspen.