At town hall, Dent pushed to keep pressure on Trump

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HANOVER TOWNSHIP, Pa. — A week to the day after U.S. Rep. Charlie’s Dent’s opposition played a role in the demise of President Trump’s proposed repeal of Affordable Care Act, the Republican came face-to-face with hundreds of impassioned constituents at a town hall in his politically divided district.

And their message was, overwhelmingly: Don’t let the Trump administration roll over policies cherished by the left.

Dent didn’t face the same kind of hostility that some GOP congressmen have faced — or sought to avoid — in constituent meetings this year. But the pitched tone of this town hall, Dent’s first since last summer, captured the tug-of-war the well-known moderate has found himself in.

In question after question, the roughly 400 people gathered at a community center gymnasium in Northampton County pummeled Dent with entreaties to stand firm against, and not with, the national leader of his party.

“Will you stand up against the morass of lies and misinformation put forth by this administration, or will you hide?” asked Doug Eadline, 60, a Democrat whose hand-written question Dent read into a microphone after plucking it from a cardboard box full of questions.

Dent, a 56-year-old now in his seventh House term, had hardly finished reciting the question before the crowd erupted in hoots and applause.

Despite a near even split of Democrats and Republicans, his district voted for Trump in November. But the applause that followed Eadline’s question reflected Dent’s role, a week earlier, as a co-leader of House moderates who balked at Trump’s new health-care law.

The so-called Tuesday group feared the changes sought by Trump and insisted upon by extreme conservatives within the GOP would strip health care from lower-income residents in rust-belt districts like his. On Friday, Dent’s answers to constituents reflected the tension of pushing pragmatic GOP positions during a time of political polarization.

“This job in Washington is to represent the interests of the more than 705,000 people of this district,” Dent said.

That also means, however, keeping an eye on the president, he added. Dent noted that, time and again this year, he has been among the first and most vocal to criticize some of Trump’s most controversial decisions. The president recently reportedly told the congressman he is “destroying the Republican Party,” an assertion Dent has not denied. 

“My job is to stand and be a check” if the administration is moving in a wrong direction, Dent told the town hall participants  “I will stand as a check. I have done that. I can say no.”

Whether opposing the Trump-led health insurance repeal-and-replace effort or the executive-order-imposed travel ban that led to widespread criticism, Dent said he had taken strong positions to oppose the White House and would continue to do so when deemed necessary.

“If the administration does something that I think is ill-advised,” Dent said, “I will stand up.”

In demanding that health insurance protections remain in place for millions who would lose it under the proposed new GOP law, Dent’s Tuesday group faced off against the far-right Freedom Caucus, which had sought total repeal of President Obama’s signature health-care legislation.

At the town hall, constituents hammered Dent with demands, shouted from the crowd, for a new law that would create universal health care, an even more comprehensive government-mandated insurance approach.

“Single Payer!” people shouted variously throughout the 90-minute event at Hanover Township Community Center.

Dent responded with calls for incremental fixes to Obamacare, as the law has become known. Only with help from Democrats, to make it bipartisan, would any substantive reforms be enduring, he said. 

“Thank you!” a man shouted to Dent, for his refusal to allow Trump’s repeal-and-replace to pass the House. Trump and the GOP’s failure to push forward its long-promised repeal of the Affordable Care Act is viewed as a major failure and has thrown into question the party’s ability to push through other major Republican initiatives such as tax reform in the months ahead.

“I don’t work for the president of either party,” Dent told the crowd, detailing two meetings with Trump last week over Dent’s concerns about the law before it was withdrawn by House leaders. “I work for the people of this district.”

​Staff writer Jonathan Tamari contributed to this report.

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