HOLDREGE, Neb. — U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer smiled gamely through several choruses of boos Thursday as she met with Nebraskans upset at the prospect of losing health care and angry that President Donald Trump refuses to release his tax returns.
One woman at the boisterous and sometimes emotional gathering told Fischer that her husband contracted polio as a young man and that the law commonly known as Obamacare allowed her family to access affordable health care for the first time in their lives.
Fischer supports the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
“As a member of the Senate, you, Sen. Fischer, hold people’s lives in your hands. I hope you understand that,” said Dee Erb, 62, of Milford.
At another point, a young Latino man stood up and told Fischer that he was neither a “bad hombre” nor a “rapist” — using language that Trump has used to describe illegal immigrants in the past.
“I’m sorry my voice is shaking because this is offensive to me and to all my people,” said Jose Jimenez, 24, of Hastings.
“It’s offensive to all of us,” Fischer responded.
Fischer held two town hall meetings Thursday, attracting about 200 people in Kearney and about 175 people in Holdrege. They were the first town hall meetings Fischer has held since she and other members of Nebraska’s congressional delegation came under fire for not meeting with angry constituents last month during a congressional recess.
U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse abruptly announced Thursday morning that he too planned to hold a town hall meeting — this morning in Omaha. Fischer had announced her town hall meetings earlier this week.
The crowd in Holdrege was decidedly mixed, with a little more than half expressing support for Obamacare. Many traveled from Omaha, Lincoln and Scottsbluff to attend.
It was an exceedingly polite crowd. Fischer insisted that everyone be allowed to talk without interruption and that she be given a chance to respond. Fischer listened nearly as much as she spoke, and she never lost her composure amid the periodic boos and jeers.
Many of the questions were about the possible repeal of the health care law and a Republican replacement bill that was recently released to the public. Several people in the audience urged Fischer to “fix” Obamacare rather than repeal it entirely.
Dr. Arthur Prine of Omaha said the time had come for the United States to guarantee all Americans access to a “basic” health care plan. He said he supported a Medicare-for-all proposal.
“We should consider health care a basic human right,” Prine said.
Fischer countered that half of Americans oppose universal health care.
She also made it clear that she continued to oppose the Affordable Care Act, although she said she was not ready to embrace the plan put forth by House Republicans.
Fischer acknowledged that many Nebraskans — including many rural residents — rely on the health care law for coverage. But she said she believes that the law hurts Nebraskans more than it helps.
“I understand that people have been helped under the Affordable Care Act, but I can give you examples of thousands of Nebraskans who have been hurt by it,” she said.
Not everyone in the audience supported Obamacare. Several stood up to defend efforts to repeal it.
Dan Janssen, a car dealer in Holdrege, said he had not been opposed to the law at first, but he turned against it as his company’s health care costs grew each year by 20 percent to 30 percent.
Janssen said the law did nothing to address rising health care costs. He also said it was passed too quickly, without enough thought. He urged Fischer and her congressional colleagues to not make the same mistake again.
“Please, put a lot of time and effort into fixing health care,” Janssen said.
Fischer did earn a few tentative rounds of applause, including when she agreed with a woman that Trump should release his tax returns — and she agreed to make that demand public. The woman argued that it was important to know if the president had any conflicts of interest between his business activities and his presidential duties.
Fischer agreed. However, Fischer earned a few jeers when she refused a request that she issue that demand from the Senate floor. She said it wouldn’t be appropriate to do so, and said her comments at Thursday’s town hall qualified as a public announcement.
“I’ve just publicly made a statement,” she said.