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U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet scores points by holding town hall in Colorado Springs

March 16, 2017 Updated: March 17, 2017 at 6:17 am
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Over 100 people attended a Colorado Springs town hall meeting with Sen. Michael Bennet Thursday, March 16, 2017, at the Tesla Education Center. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

NOTE: Scroll to the bottom of the article to watch video of the town hall.

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Health care access and the environment were two hot topics at a town hall meeting held by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado Springs on Wednesday.

The meeting at the Tesla Education Center, which drew more than 100 people, was the first of five that Bennet is hosting across the state this week.

He addressed questions from more than a dozen audience members during the roughly hour-long event, often replying with generalities and emphasizing the importance of cooperating with his Democratic and Republican colleagues.

"Where I can work with Republicans and Democrats to do that, I will. And my track record is that I have," he said in response to one woman, who asked what Bennet was doing to counter President Donald Trump's policies. "I don't believe that principled compromise with somebody that comes from a different state or a different political party or has a different point of view is selling out my values or my principles."

The discussion began with a focus on health care, including questions about Republicans' plans to dismantle and replace the Affordable Care Act. Colorado Springs resident Liz Wyn asked about the fate of Medicaid. Her mother, who has Parkinson's disease and other health issues, won't be able to pay her medical bills without funds from the program, she said.

"We're going to go bankrupt," she told Bennet.

Congressional Republicans' health care proposal, called the American Health Care Act, slashes federal Medicaid spending while transforming financial assistance for people buying insurance on the individual market - easing costs for younger, healthier people while reducing financial assistance for seniors. The proposal rolls back expanded Medicaid coverage offered in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, while significantly reducing and capping Medicaid spending in future years.

Over 100 people attended a Colorado Springs town hall meeting with Sen. Michael Bennet Thursday, March 16, 2017, at the Tesla Education Center. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

In his response, Bennet disputed Republicans' notion that the program is more "fiscally responsible."

"What it's actually doing is shifting the responsibility of Medicaid from the federal government to the states and local government, who have to make the decision, what are we doing for the people that were served by Medicaid?"

He also touched on his support for Planned Parenthood, which could be at risk of losing federal funding, and the right to choose when asked about access to women's health care.

In an interview with The Gazette before the town hall, he expressed concern about Trump's budget proposal, released Thursday, which included an increase in defense spending and cuts to other agencies, including the Health and Human Services and State departments. He said he's particularly worried about the Environmental Protection Agency, which would be cut by more than 30 percent under the proposal.

"I've got a clear record that says, when I think regulations should be changed because they don't make sense, we should change those regulations. But a wholesale cutting of 30 percent of the agency - specifically the cutting of the parts of that agency that are focused intently on climate change and the research around climate change - is not good for our country, not good for our competitiveness, and certainly not good for the state of Colorado," he said.

He echoed the sentiment during the meeting.

When asked if he would vote to confirm Trump's Supreme Court pick, Colorado federal appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch, Bennet replied that it was "very important to hear his testimony" at his confirmation hearing next week.

"He's been a judge here for a long time," Bennet said. "Many, many people think highly of him."

Over 100 people attended a Colorado Springs town hall meeting with Sen. Michael Bennet Thursday, March 16, 2017, at the Tesla Education Center. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

Prompted by another question from the audience, he also called for an investigation into Russia's alleged interference in the presidential election, either by a congressional committee or special prosecutor. Audience members clapped and cheered at the response.

El Paso County Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez, Jr., who asked Bennet about his stance on the Gorsuch nomination, was pleased that Bennet held the meeting, but said the senator's responses were nothing new.

"I didn't see a lot of new ideas," said Gonzalez, a Republican.

Jerima King, a Colorado Springs resident who previously felt Bennet was not taking a hard line over Trump's policies, said his answers at the meeting helped to change her mind.

"He said the right things. I'm so glad he was here," said King, an independent. "We haven't gotten this response from (U.S. Sen. Cory) Gardner. We haven't gotten this response from (U.S. Rep. Doug) Lamborn."

Bennet also stopped in Pueblo and Alamosa on Thursday and will visit Durango and Grand Junction on Friday.

"People are very energized about what's going on in Washington," he told The Gazette. "There's no better way for me to find out what's going on in people's minds and what they're thinking about then doing this town hall."

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The Associated Press contributed to the reporting of this story.

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