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Rep. Pete Sessions Faces Unfriendly Crowd At Dallas Town Hall


This week in Congress, Republican leaders will hammer out details in their plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Some of that will happen in the committee chaired by Pete Sessions. The Dallas Republican went home to his district yesterday, and he faced constituents. Reporter Christopher Connelly from member station KERA says the meeting went about as well as other congressional town halls have gone lately.

CHRISTOPHER CONNELLY, BYLINE: If Pete Sessions wanted to get a sense of his constituents' mood, he just had to read the signs outside of the Richardson High School auditorium. There were the conservatives, like John Banner (ph).

JOHN BANNER: I want our government out of the health care business. That's why I'm carrying this sign. Repeal - it needs to repeal and replace sometime later, but it needs to be market-oriented.

CONNELLY: Then there were progressives, like Delores Soroka (ph).

DELORES SOROKA: Paul Ryan has a specific agenda, and he's out to destroy Medicare and Medicaid.


CONNELLY: Inside the auditorium, Sessions told the nearly 2,000-strong audience he hoped they could all be polite, even if they disagreed, but many in the crowd weren't there for that.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Do your job. Do your job. Do your job.

CONNELLY: Sessions heads the powerful Rules Committee in the House, which means he'll be a key player when Congress takes up the Republican health care bill. He said Obamacare underperformed and cost too much.


PETER SESSIONS: The way they did health care was actually detrimental to job growth and job creation.


CONNELLY: The Republican plan would keep many of the elements people like from Obamacare, he said. It would also cut taxes on wealthy Americans. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said 24 million more people would be uninsured under the plan. Sessions insisted it will give people the opportunity, but not a mandate to get health insurance. Crowd response...


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: This plan sucks. This plan sucks.

CONNELLY: That back-and-forth played on for more than two hours. Sessions took questions ranging from immigration to President Trump's possible ties to Russia - all the questions read by a moderator.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The next question - this next question comes from Marcia (ph) in Dallas. And Marcia says, I want to see President Trump's tax returns.


CONNELLY: Sessions' district includes North Dallas neighborhoods and posh suburbs - safe territory for the Republican. For two decades, Sessions has faced down challengers from both sides, but last fall, voters there chose Hillary Clinton, leaving Democrats spoiling for a fight in 2018.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Work it out. Work it out.

CONNELLY: Throughout the town hall, frustrated conservatives streamed out of the auditorium. Lee Heebner (ph) and her husband didn't like all the shouting and booing.

LEE HEEBNER: We came to show support for him. We're conservative. We were afraid there would be a lot of non-conservative people here, and we were right.

CONNELLY: Some progressives also left disappointed and said they didn't feel heard. Candace Walter (ph), a progressive herself, wanted more listening all around.

CANDACE WALTER: I think maybe Americans are immature, and we like to scream and throw tantrums instead of having discussions and try to work things out.

CONNELLY: The conversation should be more civil, she says, which may be the only thing she and her congressman agree on. For NPR News, I'm Christopher Connelly in Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Christopher Connelly is a KERA reporter based in Fort Worth. Christopher joined KERA after a year and a half covering the Maryland legislature for WYPR, the NPR member station in Baltimore. Before that, he was a Joan B. Kroc Fellow at NPR – one of three post-graduates who spend a year working as a reporter, show producer and digital producer at network HQ in Washington, D.C.