CULPEPER — Rep. Dave Brat, R-7th, announced on Valentine’s Day that he would hold the first in-person town hall meeting of his second term at 7 p.m. Feb. 21 at Blackstone Herb Cottage, a restaurant in Blackstone, Nottoway County.
He made the announcement on Facebook Live as he covered health care, immigration, Russia, education and Planned Parenthood.
Brat also addressed a controversial remark he made last month about protesters when he said “the women are up in my grill no matter where I go.” He said Tuesday that a constituent made the comment to him and he thought it was kind of funny.
“So I shared it in a humorous, light-hearted gesture and people take it out of context. I meant no harm. I probably should not have repeated that phrase. In hindsight, I probably could have chosen much better words,” he said.
Brat, in addition, said he never said all of his constituents were paid protesters, mentioning groups such as Indivisible and Resist as examples of such.
In a January interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Brat said “I had one woman on my Facebook say she was going to get up in my grill. ... There's paid protesters ... paid activists on the far left, not my Democratic friends I go to church with. They're being paid to go around and raise havoc."
During the Facebook Live event, however, he cited organized efforts sharing the same message.
“A small percentage of folks load up the Facebook with comments and you can kind of tell there’s an organized pattern at a certain time an email goes out, and all of a sudden you get 50 or 100 people reading off the same script. So those are the organized professionals who are leading off some of this, but the majority of the folks who are contacting us are sincere folks with policy questions,” he said.
Near the end of his latest Facebook town hall, Brat, whose district includes Louisa and Orange counties, brought up what’s occurring at other congressional town halls nationwide.
“You’ve seen some of the tensions where one of my colleagues had to be dragged out of his own town hall by police. We saw the secretary of education unable to enter a school,” Brat said. “I haven’t seen that before in politics, and I don’t think differences in opinion justify that kind of a move.”
On the issues, Brat said he did not support “tweaking” the Affordable Care Act versus repealing it, as Republicans have vowed to do.
“There is no way possible to just tweak a completely federally run health care program that controls one-sixth of the economy. Believe me, if there was a simple way to fix the thing, we would love to do that,” he said.
Brat said the Republican plan would be affordable and cover pre-existing conditions. He submitted legislation recently to expand personal tax-free health savings accounts, saying it was “one part of the health care plan going forward.” Brat said getting rid of Medicaid was not part of the plan, though he repeated his assertion that the program, along with Medicare and Social Security, soon would be insolvent.
Asked about President Donald Trump’s promise to build a wall on the southern border, Brat said that was going to be a challenge financially.
“We have to find $8 trillion in savings just to balance the budget in 10 years. Then, when you throw on some of President Trump’s priorities, that increases the load even more. You’ve got the wall, the infrastructure at anywhere from $300 billion to a trillion dollars that has to be paid for,” he said.
Brat said he supports enacting an immigration policy designed to serve the best interests of the American worker.
“We have a very generous welfare state compared to the poorest of the poor in the world, so 8 million people could do much better by moving here, and that’s the issue,” he said.
He also predicted the U.S. Supreme Court would uphold Trump’s executive order “determining who comes into the country,” adding that America faces many foreign policy challenges from ISIS, al Qaeda, Iran and China.
“It seems to me like Trump is trying to have a more friendly relationship with Russia. That does not make Putin a good guy,” Brat said. “There’s a clear track record of human rights violations and worse. When it comes to Russia policy, they are every bit a foreign policy concern as some of the other countries going forward. On the other hand, it’s better to build friendly relationships when you can.”