Congressman Moolenaar hosts raucous listening session at CMU

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 9:04 pm on Friday, April 21, 2017

Audience members waved green or red pieces of paper to show their support or opposition to statements made during Congressman John Moolenaar’s listening session Thursday at Central Michigan University. — Daily News/Elisabeth Waldon

MOUNT PLEASANT — Not much listening took place during a Thursday night “listening session” hosted by Congressman John Moolenaar.

Nearly 900 people packed Central Michigan University’s Warriner Hall to hear from the Republican representative for Michigan’s 4th District, which encompasses 15 counties.

Congressman John Moolenaar smiles as the audience laughs and boos after Moolenaar described President Donald Trump as “a strong leader on the international stage.” Moderator Art Lewis is pictured in the background. — Daily News/Elisabeth Waldon

The contentious audience had a chant in response to nearly everything Moolenaar said, especially when the Congressman gave his patented careful and diplomatic responses (audience: “ANSWER THE QUESTION!”).

Protest signs were not allowed, so audience members waved green and red papers instead to signify whether they supported or opposed statements being made. Moderator Art Lewis choose audience members at random using a ticket system to give select people one minute to ask a question with an additional 30 seconds for a follow-up.

Lewis provided a pleasant but firm presence as moderator, asking Moolenaar the first question in an attempt to get the event off to a civilized start, but when the Congressman described President Donald Trump as “a strong leader on the international stage” the laughter, heckling and booing began and continued for the next hour and 40 minutes.

• Moolenaar on the Affordable Care Act: “The ACA is imploding. I don’t believe that a socialized one-payer system is the best for health care” (audience chant: “HEALTH CARE IS A RIGHT!” prompting the moderator to warn, “The longer you do that, the less questions we’ll get, but that’s up to you”).

A protestor carries a sign with the acronym TRUMP (standing for Tax returns, Racism, Unfund health, Money over people and Putin link) at Central Michigan University. — Daily News/Elisabeth Waldon

• Moolenaar on Medicare: “Medicare is a program that I as well as the president have agreed should not be changed for senior citizens or those entering retirement. The challenge with Medicare is that it actually becomes insolvable by the year 2028” (audience: “LIAR!”).

• Moolenaar on the Environmental Protection Agency: “I believe in sound science and good science and I believe the federal government has an important role in funding good science. I have also seen where the EPA goes off track. To me, they were really off track (with the Clean Water Act) because they were basically trying to regulate the mud puddles on people’s properties” (audience: “CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL!”).

• Moolenaar on climate change: “When we breathe, we emit our own carbon dioxide” (audience: “BOO!”).

• Moolenaar responding to claims that Trump is morally corrupt, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has ties to Russia and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will do whatever she wants: “I don’t agree with your premise” (audience: “DRAIN THE SWAMP!”).

• Moolenaar on whether Trump should release his tax returns: “I support elected officials complying with the law as a candidate as far as financial disclosure” (audience: “YOU’RE SUCH A WIMP!”).

Amid chants of “YES OR NO!” Moolenaar did answer one question with a simple “no,” the question of whether he would support a resolution asking for presidential tax transparency, leading to a lengthy audience chant of, “SHAME ON YOU!”

When the moderator cut off a man who had gone over his allotted questioning time, the audience erupted into a chant of “LET HIM SPEAK!” About a dozen audience members walked out of the event, apparently disgusted with the rowdy atmosphere.

A woman who had brought her young son to the event as a learning experience received a chance to address Moolenaar.

“What my children are growing up in is a society that is not tolerant of opposite opinions from others and is not willing to recognize a different opinion or life experience of their own,” the woman began, but she was drowned out by heckling, leading the woman to scold the audience.

Congressman John Moolenaar addresses the audience during Thursday’s listening session at Central Michigan University. — Daily News/Elisabeth Waldon

“Excuse me! I have the microphone and it’s my turn to speak,” the woman declared. “Perhaps some of you don’t demand respect, but I was taught when someone else is speaking you don’t interrupt!”

After scattered applause, the woman turned to the Congressman, saying: “I’d like to know what our politicians are going to do that will heal the breech in this country today because where I stand I don’t feel like I’m being represented on either side of the aisle.”

Moolenaar shared an optimistic viewpoint in response.

“We benefit when everybody has the opportunity to share their views,” he told her. “I would not be discouraged by the lack of civility right now. I know it’s disappointing and it’s happening all across our country. People in Congress and people who I believe have the best at heart in terms of thinking about the future of our country are having discussions, are trying to hear one another and understand each other’s viewpoints.”

Moolenaar mentioned Congressman Dan Kildee, a Democrat, who collaborated with Moolenaar on a bill funding Flint’s water infrastructure.

“We actually have a friendship and a trust,” Moolenaar said. “I believe you can work collaboratively on issues. I’m optimistic about our future. I don’t want your son or you to be discouraged in this process because I believe we are a great country and will work through these challenges.”

This sentiment was met with rare applause from the audience.

Cheryl Farver of Owosso wore a pin reading “Have you seen my Congressman” to Thursday’s listening session. Farver said she is concerned Moolenaar is representing Trump instead of representing the 4th District in areas such as the health care, immigration and education. — Daily News/Elisabeth Waldon

Moolenaar was elected to his second term with more than 60 percent of the vote in the 4th District.

“You’ve got a pretty sweet spot here,” a woman in the audience told him. “I happen to think the solutions for our state and country are found in the middle. I’m going to ask you to keep listening, because it was 61 percent of the vote … this time. You need to encompass all of us, and we’re going to help you do that.”

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