Hundreds of people jammed into a town hall meeting with U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal on Wednesday night, many of them there to tell the Democrat they support his efforts to resist President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown and Trump’s promise to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
Carbajal led a panel with San Luis Obispo County Health Officer Penny Borenstein, Joyce Ellen Lippman from the Central Coast Commission for Senior Citizens and Dr. Priya Verma from Cal Poly’s Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences Department.
Unlike the scenes at similar town hall meetings held by members of Congress around the country this week, the Arroyo Grande crowd of about 400 people — a majority of them women — appeared optimistically fired up. Some held signs that read: “Beware the ides of Trump,” “Save and improve ACA” and “Please save us.”
Although most were there to voice displeasure and fear over Trump’s policies and recent executive orders, many wanted to hear Carbajal’s plan to deal with them in a House of Representatives where Republicans outnumber Democrats 240-193.
“I am doing my best,” he said. “I am finding every path possible to be effective and to be constructive and to be your best representative in Washington.”
As the audience cheered, one woman called on Carbajal to help impeach Trump.
Carbajal responded that he, like “many people throughout the country,” is concerned that the president hasn’t released his tax returns to show any potential conflicts of interest. He also said he was concerned about what Trump “knew or didn’t know, regarding his campaign staff in collusion with the Russian government.”
He added: “All of those issues are being discussed.”
Carbajal told the crowd that he had co-sponsored a bill, along with most House Democrats, calling for an independent investigation of Russia’s influence on the 2016 election and its potential influence on the Trump administration. Impeachment is unlikely in a Republican-dominated Congress if Republicans are “complicit in not holding this president accountable,” he said.
As temperatures rose inside the packed auditorium and hallways, attendees supported one another and helped others navigate the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. Toward the back of the auditorium, a young man helped brace an elderly woman who had been standing for an hour so that she could continue to watch the proceedings.
I am doing my best. I am finding every path possible to be effective and to be constructive and to be your best representative in Washington.
U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal
Questions for Carbajal touched on broad issues, such as the Trump administration’s plan to step up deportations, protecting the civil rights of LGBTQ individuals, Republicans’ proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act and protecting against climate change. They also brought up concerns about less-frequently addressed topics, such as veterans’ health care, animal welfare and political engagement.
In response to questions about immigration, Carbajal said Congress must fast-track an immigration reform bill in order to “keep families together.”
After a question about blocking a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, Carbajal invited a response from Borenstein, the county health officer, who said a repeal would mean an “enormous rollback” of health services for county residents.
One man who identified himself as a Bernie Sanders supporter in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary asked Carbajal for advice on running for local political office.
“Get involved now so that your service didn’t start with an election, and so you have that breadth of experience behind you,” Carbajal said.
Of the about two dozen constituents to ask a question, two said they hadn’t voted for Carbajal, including a man who identified himself as a staff sergeant in the California National Guard. The man said the military was in a “terrible state” and “broken,” and he warned of a “catastrophic military defeat” for the United States if the defense budget isn’t increased.
“Our military, whether you like it or not, we’re your sheepdogs, and we’re hurting,” the man said to boos from the crowd.
Carbajal, a former member of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, thanked the man and said the U.S. military is “great” compared with other countries. He said he would “look to the generals” to show that military funds are being spent efficiently.
The event comes as members of Congress are on break, many of them choosing to host town hall meetings in their home districts. Across the United States — including in Arroyo Grande — the large crowds have often been primarily critics of Trump policies, encouraged to attend by Indivisible, a progressive political movement launched online in reaction to the presidential election. Many Republicans are dodging public meetings altogether.
On Wednesday, protestors organized by the California Courage Campaign and the Service Employees International Union held “candlelight vigils” near the district offices of seven California Republican congressmen who did not schedule town halls. Protesters held signs asking passers-by, “Have you seen my Congressperson?”
The 24th Congressional District, which Carbajal represents, encompasses San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, as well as a small portion of Ventura County.