KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Congressman Jimmy Duncan took time to speak with WATE 6 On Your Side Monday on a variety of issues, including President Trump’s executive order on immigration, Russia, health care, and town hall meetings.
Protestors have been calling on Duncan to hold town hall meetings to discuss issues with his constituents. Duncan has refused to hold any, saying at one point they “would very quickly turn into shouting opportunities for extremists, kooks and radicals.” Duncan says he prefers individual meetings.
That led to several demonstrations outside his Knoxville office, with one group notably calling themselves “Kookfest,” where people said their issues were being ignored and they were unable to arrange one-on-one meetings with Duncan.
Duncan says he has met with thousands of constituents individually over the years and continues to do so.
“Over the years I’ve had hundreds of meetings and constituent days. I have met with thousands, many thousands, and of course every place I go people want to express opinions or ask for help. I mean they do that. They express those opinions to me at ball games, drug stores, gas stations, church, schools, civic clubs,” Duncan said.
He said he doesn’t see the need for a town hall meeting because he already knows how his constituents feel.
“I know exactly how the people feel. I don’t see a need to try to draw more attention or provide a forum for people to express left wing views. Also, we’ve seen all over the country where people have been extremely hateful at some of these meetings. Members have had to leave with police protection,” he said. “I’m not going to hold a town meeting. I’ve met today with people who were part of the demonstrators against me at my office. I’m meeting with them regularly, meeting with some more next Monday. Not only meeting with people here but I have appointments all through the week up in Washington too.”
He said those who claim to not be able to set up appointments with his office are not being truthful.
“I’m setting up appointments in my offices. In fact, most of the people that first said they wanted to see me are declining our offer to have appointments. I know that some of them will lie later on that they tried to get in to see me. They’ll probably send some letters to the editor that they tried to get in to see me. Anybody who wants to get in to see me, should come see me,” Duncan said. “I’m not promising anyone they can get in the day they called because I do have a lot of people that want to see me. A lot of people other than those who are very arrogantly demanding town halls.”
Susan Sneed, part of Indivisible East Tennessee, one of the groups asking for a town hall, says those accusations trouble her.
“That’s not who we are. That’s not how we operate. That’s not how we ever intend to operate,” she said. “That sort of accusation falls very hard on us as constituents, especially after the name calling he’s done already.”
She said she can imagine that Duncan believes on-on-one meetings are more civil, but they are time consuming.
“What we continue to hear is that his time is at a premium, and certainly it is at a premium, so a town hall, while I really, truly believe we can have a civil town hall in Tennessee. A town hall would save him time and as far as him knowing what his constituents feel because he sees us at the grocery store – I don’t think we shop at the same place, and we don’t go to church at the same place, so I haven’t run into him. That’s why the town hall forum, which is an American tradition after all, is something we suggested early on,” she said.
Duncan also addressed the ongoing efforts in Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, and the challenges presented.
“This is a difficult thing. We’ve got 535 in the Congress, 435 in the house, 100 in the senate. We’ve got 50 governors who have got an important role in health care. You’ve got all the people in the administration, in the universities, in the think tanks and so forth. Everybody has different opinions of what to do. It’s a very difficult thing to mesh all of that together,” he said.
Despite the challenges, Duncan stressed he feels it is important to replace Obamacare, saying it has done more harm than good.
“Many millions of people their premiums and deductibles have gone way up. In fact, pretty good percentage of people, I think, who are on Obamacare now are people who were forced to go on Obamacare because they lost their coverage or their premiums went up so high they couldn’t afford it. Obamacare has been a disaster,” he said. “I’ve heard people say that 25 million people have been helped by Obamacare. The problem is it’s hurt 200 million people or more.”
When asked about allegations of Russian interference in the election, Duncan said he doesn’t believe them at all.
“They can investigate that to high heaven and they’ll never be able to show that one vote was altered by anything the Russians did or didn’t do,” Duncan said. “In fact, Hilary Clinton and President Obama were embattled before the election that the election couldn’t be rigged. They said that repeatedly. When Donald Trump expressed concerns before the election about it being rigged in some way, President Obama and Hilary Clinton assured the country that was impossible to rig our elections.”
President Trump’s newest order on immigration, signed Monday, suspends the U.S. refugee program for 120 days and bars the issuing of new visas to people from Syria, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia for 90 days. Duncan says he says immigration laws need to be enforced.
“We have got to be a little more restrictive on immigration because our whole infrastructure, our hospitals, our jails, our sewers, our streets, our schools, our roads – we couldn’t handle a really rapid influx of people of hundreds of millions of people. I think that it makes sense to first of all get the people who are here illegally who are criminals to remove them. The president is trying to do that. Secondly, I think it makes sense to be a little more careful about who is let in from these countries where the terrorists have come from,” said Congressman Duncan.
Duncan also took issue with the criticism of the immigration ban for allegedly targeting Muslims.
“The ban didn’t apply to most of the countries that have the highest Muslim populations. We open the House and Senate with prayer. We have never had a problem with that. We have even allowed Muslim ministers to pray and open our sessions in Congress,” he said.