More than 200 people showed up Aug. 7 for Rep. Patrick McHenry's first-ever Buncombe County town hall. Attendees asked pointed questions about his positions on health care and a variety of other issues.
Residents packed the auditorium of Artspace Charter School in Swannanoa, with some cheering and booing each other's remarks and the congressman's responses. The Republican is serving his fifth term representing the 10th District of North Carolina. But it's only his first since that district was redrawn to include most of Asheville, a Democratic stronghold in an otherwise conservative area.
"We weren't sure how this was going to go. We weren't sure if this was going to be a 'Moral Wednesday," McHenry joked, adding: "It's an honor to serve as your representative. It's an honor to represent the jewel of Western North Carolina, the economic heart of the west."
Facing a torrent of questions about why he voted 40 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, McHenry said it was a matter of principle.
"The reason why I oppose this law, is because I don't think it will address the problems," he said. "Even though it has some beneficial aspects, I'm not willing to accept bad policy."
McHenry noted that he supports provisions of the law that keep insurance companies from denying coverage due to preexisting conditions, as well as those that allow children to stay on their parents' insurance plans until the age of 26.
In place of Obamacare, McHenry said he favored measures to expand high-risk insurance pools and tax-free health savings accounts. He said he supports changes that would allow insurance purchases across state lines and empower small businesses to band together on insurance plans.
"It's not a complete solution, but it's dramatically better than what Obamacare offers," he maintained.
Asked about immigration policy, McHenry said he'd vote against a bipartisan bill the Senate passed in June that would provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country.
"I don't believe in amnesty," he asserted. "When you willfully break the law, that should not give you an enhanced ability to get what you want."
Instead, McHenry praised the approach favored by House leadership to consider a series of smaller steps to deal with immigration, rather than the more comprehensive Senate bill. "It has to begin with border security," he declared.
On another contentious security issue, McHenry said his views "are evolving" on the proper role of the National Security Agency and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in keeping Americans safe.
"I've got a deep concern that this balance between liberty and security, is no longer balanced," he noted.
Asked about what he's doing to help address a local shortage of affordable housing, McHenry said he'd like to do more.
"The lack of high-quality affordable rentals here is a very unique situation," he reported, urging local residents involved in the issue to get in touch with his staff. "I need to work with local officials to make sure we deliver on that," he added.
In response to an attendee who accused him of being "highly partisan," McHenry noted that he was the only Republican representative from North Carolina to vote in favor of reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act this year. He also touted his leadership in crafting bipartisan legislation to expand crowd-funding opportunities for entrepreneurs.
A resident of Denver, N.C., McHenry maintains a constituent service office in Black Mountain, and his Swannanoa meeting was just one in a series planned in each of the counties he represents.
"We need to have an active and engaged citizenry, and that's why I have town hall meetings every August," he noted. "Elections have consequences, but that doesn't mean we can't listen to each other."