Perry faces constituents at Red Lion town hall

Jason Addy

U.S. Rep. Scott Perry tried to draw clear lines between himself and President Donald Trump’s administration at his town-hall meeting Saturday morning in Red Lion, but many of his constituents in attendance left unconvinced.

Perry faced about 400 constituents at the Red Lion Area Junior High School cafeteria in his first in-person public town-hall meeting since last July.

Gail Bumsted, of Mechanicsburg, shares her thoughts with  Rep. Scott Perry, after his town-hall meeting Saturday, March 18, 2017, at the Red Lion Area Junior High School. Amanda J. Cain photo

Perry fielded written questions from constituents on a range of topics, from health care and immigration to funding for public schools and Planned Parenthood, with most of his answers eliciting both rumblings of anger and applause in support.

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Though he struggled to convince large swaths of the crowd during the 90-minute meeting, Perry drew widespread support when he said he would vote against the American Health Care Act.

“I will tell you I’m not happy with this bill. I’ve already expressed to my leadership that I’m a 'no' on it,” Perry said. “(Health care) is unaffordable for almost all of us, and the bill that I see does not drive the cost of health care down. To me, that’s the issue."

He faced multiple questions about his position on the bill that Republicans introduced two weeks ago to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, with constituents worried that the bill would cause millions of people to lose coverage.

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In response to several questions about the American Health Care Act, school choice legislation and immigration raids, Perry said he did not know the answer or did not have enough information to answer, which only served to create more tension within the room.

Though he tried to distance himself from Trump and the Republican House leadership on the new American Health Care Act and the president’s management style, Perry signaled that he is unwilling to believe that the president has any ties with Russia.

"In the United States of America, we are innocent until proven guilty, and we follow the facts," Perry said, trying to speak over the crowd.

Perry then posed a hypothetical situation. "If your neighbor accused you of something to the authorities and the authorities came over and raided your house based on an accusation without evidence, would that be the America you want to live in? Because it's not the America I want to live in."

Joseph Butler, of Springettsbury Township, gestures, during Rep. Scott Perry's town-hall meeting Saturday, March 18, 2017, at the Red Lion Area Junior High School. Amanda J. Cain photo

Hostile crowd: Several activist groups located in Pennsylvania’s 4th Congressional District had promised hard questions, and dozens of members showed up with signs to show Perry how they felt about his answers.

Knowing he was facing a potentially hostile crowd, Perry asked for those in attendance to direct their anger and frustrations at him and not each other.

Still, the meeting grew contentious at points, as supporters shouted for others to “let him answer,” while Perry’s opponents drowned out his answers several times by yelling.

It took less than 10 minutes for frustrations to become vocal, with one man yelling “You’re a fraud!” while exiting the school.

Others yelled at the congressman for requiring identification and proof of residency in order to get into the meeting, though Perry insisted he just wanted to ensure he was answering his own constituents’ questions.

Rep. Perry's town hall fills quickly

Perry also addressed the 100 or so empty seats at the back of the cafeteria, after his office said all tickets were reserved within a day of being made available.

About 500 people reserved seats for the town hall, he said.

“If there are empty spaces, people chose not to come,” Perry said. “If you have questions about that, people chose not to come.”

Liz Reilly, of Camp Hill, holds up her sign, after Rep. Scott Perry didn't fully answer a question regarding President Donald Trump, during his town-hall meeting  Saturday, March 18, 2017, at the Red Lion Area Junior High School. Amanda J. Cain photo

Several people showed up Saturday without making a reservation, but they were allowed in just before Perry began the town-hall meeting.

Stephanie Robinson, of Wellsville, said she tried to register online but made a mistake and had to wait outside. Robinson said she came to hear Perry speak about the health care bill because her family depends on the Affordable Care Act for coverage.

“I don’t see how they think this is going to be good for Americans,” Robinson said. “But I am very, very grateful that he’s doing this, and I hope he does it again and in other places.”

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Deana Weaver, 57, of Dillsburg, said it was “very brave” of Perry to meet face-to-face with his angry constituents, but she doesn’t think she and other demonstrators got through to him.

Weaver had strong words for one of Perry’s answers during the meeting, when he said he would consider a bill providing federal civil-rights protections to LGBT individuals, but he does “not want to disenfranchise others” in the process.

“He seems to be more concerned about representing and protecting the religious-right voice and taking away women’s right to choose and not recognizing LGBT hate crimes,” Weaver said. “He’s more concerned about preserving his base than representing the people who are his constituents.”

The full video of the town-hall meeting can be found on Perry's Facebook page: U.S. Rep. Scott Perry's Red Lion Town Hall.