It took nearly two years, but House Speaker Paul Ryan finally held a town hall meeting in his district Monday night.
About 300 people attended the event at the Racine Theater Guild. Several hundred others gathered outside the venue to protest. Ryan answered questions on a wide range of topics.
CNN organized and televised the prime-time town hall meeting, and hand-picked audience members from a number of backgrounds. Some wanted to hear Ryan's thoughts on the appropriate response to white supremacists such as the ones involved in the deadly rally in Charlottesville, VA. President Trump, a fellow Republican, has been criticized for not taking a tough enough stand. Ryan says the answer doesn’t lie in debating how Trump or other Republicans reacted, or what Democrats have said in the wake of the incident.
“This idea that a human being -- someone who thinks they are more superior than another one is a repugnant, repulsive idea that strikes against everything we believe in and stand for in this country. And, you don’t have to be a Democrat or a Republican to believe that. Heck, you don’t even have to be a religious person to believe that, you just have to be a good person,” Ryan says.
The economy and jobs also were on people's minds. One person asked Ryan about the huge incentives package the state is considering giving Foxconn. The money would help the Taiwanese firm build a big LCD screen manufacturing plant in southeastern Wisconsin. The audience member asked Ryan whether the state is wise to offer the incentives, or if other companies would line up to expect the same. Ryan said the investment is worth it, and says the project would help transform the state and end brain drain.
“We want to keep our children and grandchildren in Wisconsin and I think bringing a sector like this to Wisconsin is a long term solution to helping make sure that people can stay and have great jobs in Wisconsin. 13,000 jobs and $10 billion over 15 years of payroll ain’t nothing to sneeze at,” Ryan says.
For others, foreign affairs -- in particular, North Korea -- topped the list of concerns. Ryan was asked about the recent threats made by Kim Jong-Un, as the country has tested nuclear warheads and threatened to attack Guam. Ryan says it’s important for Kim Jong-Un to realize the U.S. isn’t going to take such threats lying down.
“It’s not that they would launch a missile against the United States, what I worry most about, is that they’ll sell one. I worry that they’re going to proliferate, that they’ll sell to the highest bidder, to a terrorist. That is why this is a serious issue and this young man is an unstable person and I do think he should be held to account to his reckless rhetoric and I think that’s what the President is trying to do,” Ryan says.
The several hundred protesters who assembled outside the town hall meeting had additional concerns they wanted Ryan to hear. Some held signs that read “Out of Touch Ryan" or "Impeach Trump.” Anthony Davis was among the protesters. He's a retired Chrysler worker from Kenosha, who says he doesn't believe Ryan represents the district very well.
“I don’t think Paul Ryan is doing a very good job and I don’t think he cares about the average worker.”
Davis says he would like Ryan to do more to help struggling families.
“I’ve got a son right now, he’s working two jobs to take care of three kids. That doesn’t make sense to me, where a parent has to work that many jobs, he doesn’t have time to spend quality time with his kids either,” Davis says.
Another constituent of Ryan's, Lori Hawkins of Racine, had women's health care on her mind. She says she’s concerned about Ryan’s support of a plan to cut funding to Planned Parenthood.
“If Planned Parenthood is defunded in Racine County, there is no other Medicaid option for preventative reproductive health care. Without Planned Parenthood, we’re going to see fewer cancer screenings, more STDs and that is a huge issue that’s largely being ignored," Hawkins says.
Some protesters had different messages to share, including their support for immigrant rights, or their opposition to Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Others still had a more general complaint, regarding Ryan's accessibility to his constituents. They were upset that it took him nearly two years to hold a town hall meeting...and they were disappointed that they didn't get into last night's event.