Ohioans press Portman about Trump, Medicaid and Muslim ban

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio
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Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio

Ohioans asked Sen. Rob Portman about immigration and the Muslim ban. They asked about immigration and the Muslim ban. They asked about Obamacare, and the Republican plan to repeal and replace it. They asked about the Supreme Court. And they asked about Donald Trump.

And Portman, R-Ohio, weighed in for an hour and fifteen minutes, sometimes taking repeated follow ups.

“We want to hear from you,” he said, adding “this is an interesting time for our country.”

For the nearly 8,000 Ohioans listening in, it might be the closest they come to actually seeing the Republican senator in person. Like many Ohio lawmakers, Portman has often opted for tele-town halls, a live version of a question and answer session using the telephone.

Portman’s staff say the phone calls are convenient – he’s in Washington most of this week — but they point out that it’s only one of the ways he tries to keep in touch with constituents while he’s in Washington.

Other lawmakers have been more blunt in their preference for teletown halls over in-person town halls: They prefer the teletown halls because they are more easily managed, with voters queuing up to ask questions rather than shouting in a more uncontrolled, chaotic environment, and the conversation is often more productive.

Still, the questions Wednesday were, at times, blunt.

John from Sylvania started by proclaiming that cuts to the EPA are “horrible,” and then asked about Trump, saying the 45th president had told enough lies that he had become less credible. “It’s disgusting to me,” he said, urging Portman to talk to Trump.

Portman said he has stood up to Trump on policy issues such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Muslim ban, though he acknowledged that plenty of his constituents also support Trump. “I’m not interested in getting into a fight,” he said. “I’m interested in making progress.”

But the next questioner, Meryl from Columbus, said the issue wasn’t one of policy. “We are very concerned about the lies in and of itself,” she said, arguing, “It’s dangerous to us with respect to our allies and dangerous that we can’t trust our president.”

“I get what you’re saying,” Portman said, adding that “trust is at a low ebb anyway, and we all need to be careful about what we say because words matter. I hear what you’re saying.”

A caller named Tom asked whether Portman would vote against the current House plan to replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act, focusing in particular on the mental health coverage elements of the plan. The caller said he worried the bill would not protect mental health coverage for Medicaid recipients. The newest bill includes an option for states to use block grants for Medicaid.

Portman said he is not worried that Ohio Gov. John Kasich would drop the coverage under the block grant option. But he said he will work to improve the plan for the mentally ill, many of whom use Medicaid to help treat their substance abuse issues.

“I could not support the current health legislation,” Portman said.

Cheryl from Chillicothe also worried about the impact of the new health care bill on Medicaid. She runs Cheryl’s House of Hope, which provides housing to women recovering from drug addiction.

“Let’s get this stopped,” she said of the opioid crisis. “That’s just how I feel.”

This is the third tele-town hall Portman has held this year. His staff says he has also held more than 30 events this year, including an in-person town halls with Whirlpool employees in Clyde, and the second with Pennex employees in Leetonia near Youngstown. He also holds constituent coffees every week that he’s in Washington, according to his staff.

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