AURORA, Colo. – Rep. Mike Coffman made headlines Wednesday when he said that White House press secretary Sean Spicer “needs to go,” but the five-term Congressman from Colorado’s first in-person town hall of the year saw much more of a focus from those in attendance on the ongoing debate over the U.S. health care system.
Slated to speak with constituents at the CU Anschutz campus for an hour, Coffman instead listened to tough questions and demands from constituents for an additional 45 minutes, sometimes trying to find an olive branch and other times rebuffing those in attendance.
The roughly 800-person capacity room was not entirely filled despite tickets to the event selling out ahead of time. And the lengthy rules list for the event, which banned yelling, among other things, was never quite enforced. Though progressive groups protested Coffman both before and after the event, it's unclear if any of the people who showed up solely to protest asked questions inside.
Many of the three-dozen or so people who asked questions pressed Coffman on his support for the American Health Care Act, the Paul Ryan-backed plan to repeal and replace Obamacare that was pulled before it could face a perhaps-embarrassing failed vote in the full House.
“Are you going to side with Trump or…stand with your constituents?” asked one woman.
“What will it take you to vote with your constituents?” another pressed.
“I voted for you because I thought you’d be a leader,” one constituent said, according to Politico’s coverage of the event. “I don’t see you leading.”
Still others asked about the pre-existing conditions, and others pressed Coffman on Medicaid, which hundreds of thousands of Coloradans utilize for health care coverage and the AHCA would have cut significantly over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Coffman said he ran on the idea that he would repeal and replace Obamacare, which is why he carried through supporting the Republican proposal, though he said he would “protect those with pre-existing conditions.”
His district, Colorado’s 6th, went to Hillary Clinton by 9 percentage points in 2016, and also went to Sen. Michael Bennet by a wide margin in 2014.
He already faces a challenge from Democrat Jason Crow, a Denver attorney who is a former paratrooper and Ranger in the U.S. Army who declared his candidacy Monday. A 25-year-old newcomer, Gabriel McArthur, is also running on the Democratic side.
Still, both face uphill battles to de-seat Coffman, who beat Morgan Carroll in 2016 by 31,000 votes – a few thousand fewer than he won by when he defeated Andrew Romanoff in 2014.
The last close election Coffman faced was in 2012, when he beat out Democrat Joe Mikloski by just 7,000 votes. That race also had fairly strong turnouts for Libertarian and independent candidates.
The district was the only in the state that saw a margin of victory between the candidates less than 10 percent in 2016.
But Coffman on Wednesday tried to find ways to meet Democrats in the audience and Republicans who are not pleased with Trump somewhere in the middle – something he did during the 2016 election but which has been mostly forgotten after his support for the AHCA.
He said he was “heading in [the] direction” of supporting having an independent counsel investigate possible ties between Russia and Trump associates.
He also said he supported a proposed law forcing the president, vice president and members of Congress to release their tax returns.
Immigration also came up, and Coffman said he would like to see undocumented immigrants who “have broken our immigration laws but haven’t broken our other laws” to “come out of the shadows.”
But the most noteworthy statement of the night for most opposed to Trump came at the end of the session, when Coffman was asked about Spicer’s comments, which he apologized for afterward, in which he said that Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons during World War II while comparing that to the gassing of civilians in Syria.
“He needs to go,” Coffman said of Spicer after being pressed on the issue.
But the seasoned Republican didn’t give in entirely to the crowd, saying that those “on the extreme left” would “never be satisfied,” while saying he would continue to vote as he felt necessary.
“When I disagree with the president, I will speak out against the president,” Coffman said. “But I’m not going to do it every other day.”
Coffman follows up town hall with interview Thursday
On the topic of healthcare, Coffman told Denver7 reporter Marc Stewart in an interview Thursday that he hopes the Republicans will likely write another healthcare bill.
"Do you think this is something we would see by the end of the year?” asked Stewart.
“I hope so,” Coffman said. “I mean, in my view, the end of the year is too late. I think we need to do it as soon as possible.”
He said he hopes that happens “in the next couple months.”
On immigration, Coffman sides with the president about securing the border, but feels policies also need to be realistic, especially when it comes to DREAMers.
"I think there ought to be some kind of DREAM Act for the young people that would allow them -- through military service, through education, through work history -- to have a path to citizenship."
As far as undocumented immigrants living here now, Coffman provided no promises.
"Should you have that concern you could picked up by an ICE agent for no other reason than your citizenship status?” asked Sewart.
“I'm not going to speak to that,” Coffman said. “I think the administration is looking at different directions. I mean, they're in violation of the law, and that's why we have to reform the law."