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Tennessee Rep. Blackburn faces raucous town hall

FAIRVIEW, TN – Longtime Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) faced tough questions on Tuesday afternoon from angry constituents upset over the Trump agenda and the Republican push to get rid of Obamacare. But unlike some of the other town halls unfolding across the country, her event never became fodder for cable television or social media.

The veteran member of Congress came into the event with an expectation of an unfriendly questions. “Everybody’s voice matters when it comes to this debate about how we move forward as a country. Our country has been so well served by respectful two party robust debate,” Blackburn said in her opening remarks in an attempt to disarm the crowd. 

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She told the audience that she met with an organizer behind the “alternative town hall” outside and her staff made sure to tweet a picture of the meeting.

The event started awkwardly. “Tax reform! How many of you would like to see tax reform take place?” Blackburn asked the audience. She was met by silence from the audience. “Several of you, yes indeed!” she said smiling and just went on. 

Security at the Fairview City Hall was tight. The building also doubles as the headquarters of the local police department. Metal detectors were set up in the entry way and attendance inside the building was capped at 130 leading to an “alternative town hall” held by demonstrators outside. 

In order to keep access to the emergency exits clear, television cameras were prevented from setting up in the sides of the room which all but ensured that only the back of the heads of questioners were visible.

The first question was about Steve Bannon’s place as a senior advisor in the Trump White House and on the National Security Council. “Well first of all I don’t speak for the president,” she answered. “I have known Mr. Bannon -- my interactions with him have all been fine.”

Just as Republican town halls throughout the country, the Affordable Care Act dominated discussion. Of the roughly 14 questions that Blackburn took on over the course of one hour fifteen minutes, five of them involved the ACA.  

“I got to go back to the ACA. You folks up in Washington have had seven years to come up with a thoughtful, well-thought-out replacement,” one audience member declared. “There’s a lot of concern you’re going to cobble something together and kick it out the door. It’s not going to be debated, it’s not going to be well thought out.”

Blackburn replied by arguing that Obamacare was failing. “You had the Democrats lay out their government centered plan, they went with their plan and it has not worked.” 

Multiple people retorted, “yes it has.”

“No let me finish my reply, let me finish my answer please. I’m going to answer your question. I am trying to answer your question,” Blackburn said trying to regain control.

Many of the audience members told CBS News beforehand that they were first time town hall attendees. “I have always bene interested in politics but being a small business owner sometimes finding time to get to these things is very difficult. But I saw she was going to be here today so I took the day, closed the office and made sure I could come,” said Elizabeth Wanczak of Franklin, TN. 

The small business owner told CBS that she was prompted to attend out of “deep concern about what they’re doing about the Affordable Care Act.”

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At one point a local high school student expressed concern over Betsy DeVos, the recently confirmed Secretary of Education. “She is going to do a fine job,” Blackburn replied, leading to groans and someone to blurt out, “you think we’re stupid!”

After taking questions on the ACA, Russian interference in the election, Steve Bannon, among others, the eight term Congresswoman received an even more pointed question aimed directly at her. 

“I’m real excited to hear what the next steps are for Rep. Blackburn as far as what you’re looking to do in the future, maybe going into the private sector would be nice,” one constituent asked to the delight of the crowd, “we’re interested to hear if you support term limits?”

Without losing her cool, Blackburn answered with a smile, “I think that’s a roundabout backhanded way of saying I want you fired.” Motioning to the mayor walking around with the audience microphone, she said, “you want to go to the next question?” The crowd wouldn’t let her get away. “Can you answer the question?” the man shot back.

“Let me tell you something House members have to go before the public every two years,” she replied before pivoting, “I’ll tell you who I think we need to put the term limits on that’s the bureaucrats out in Washington D.C.” That answer only prompted the crowd to laugh at her.

“I thought I would stay there maybe four to six years and I have been there longer and I go before the voters every two years,” she went on, “I appreciate the fact that you want to boot me out, I’ll look at the bill and get back to you.”

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