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Valley News Correspondent
Published: 9/22/2017 12:00:31 AM
Modified: 9/22/2017 12:00:41 AM

Hanover — During a joint town hall on Thursday night at the Richmond Middle School, U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., and Peter Welch, D-Vt., assailed Republican attempts to roll back the Affordable Care Act, impose new voting restriction and impede efforts to fight climate change.

Both representatives passed harsh judgment on the Graham-Cassidy health care bill currently before the Senate. In an interview after the event, which was attended by about 60 community members and a smattering of well-dressed staffers, Kuster labeled it a “terrible bill, the worst in a series of terrible bills.” Welch referred to the legislation as an “abomination.”

Graham-Cassidy, named for sponsors Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., would reduce federal health care funding to most states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, including Vermont and New Hampshire, and instead disburse block grants to states based on their population of low-income residents.

Kuster noted she had voted 55 times against repealing the ACA, and argued instead for a bipartisan initiative to “fix” the 2010 law. The present Senate bill, she said, would cause “tens of thousands” of New Hampshire residents to lose their health care coverage.

The state of voting rights in the U.S. and President Donald Trump’s hawkish comments on North Korea also were on attendees’ minds.

Peter Burling, a Democratic former member of the New Hampshire Senate, expressed concern over the country’s electoral health. “What do you feel Congress is doing, and what it should be doing,” he asked the representatives, “to protect our right to full, fair, accessible elections?”

Kuster responded by invoking Trump’s commission on election integrity, headed by Kris Kobach, Kansas’ secretary of state, deeming it a “total outrage and a total fraud on the American people.”

Earlier in September, the group held a meeting in Manchester, where protesters gathered to contest Kobach’s claim that voter fraud may have tipped the result of New Hampshire’s 2016 U.S. Senate race. “Let me just be very, very clear with you: he is wrong,” Kuster said. “He is wrong in his interpretation; he is wrong to make this assertion.”

Welch, in turn, described the 2010 Citizens United ruling, which classified political spending as a form of protected speech, as contributing to a “toxic” political environment in the U.S. “That decision by our Supreme Court is going to live in infamy,” he said, “together with the Dred Scott decision.”

Barbarina Heyerdahl made the trip to Hanover from Montpelier because, she said, Welch “hasn’t been holding town hall meetings in Vermont.” She was eager to know how her congressman would minimize the chance of war with North Korea, given Trump’s threat to “totally destroy” the country if it persists in its weapons tests. “This is an incredibly frightening moment,” she said.

Welch said Heyerdahl was “not alone” in her apprehension, and that “only Congress has the right declare war.” Kuster sought to allay fears over rising tensions with the pariah state by pointing to Trump’s foreign policy advisors. She described coming away from classified briefings “more confident in the people who are advising him,” including Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Responding to a question on Hurricane Harvey and the effects of climate change, Welch expressed confusion at the congressional response.

“Here’s the thing that mystifies me about our approach to climate change in Congress: we’re, like, denying that it exists, right?” Welch said. “These wild storms that come once every 500 years are coming every year? ... A confident nation doesn’t deny the existence of a problem. It faces it.”

The two representatives received a hearty round of applause at both the beginning and end of the town hall, which lasted just over an hour.

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