GREENSBORO — U.S. Rep. Ted Budd stood at the center of a pressing circle of constituents for more than three hours Friday morning, fielding questions and listening to concerns while dozens of people hovered in the background, straining to hear.
The meet-and-greet, which allowed Budd to meet with individual constituents, left some attendees unhappy because they were unable to hear the questions and answers as they would in a town hall-style meeting.
Budd, a freshman Republican congressman from Advance, preferred the meet-and-greet, held in a ballroom at the downtown Greensboro Marriott, because it allowed him to connect with individual voters, his spokeswoman Melissa Brown said. More than 200 people attended.
“You get to ask him your question directly and get an answer, but what’s most important is forming that relationship,” she said. “This way they get to meet him and know him.”
Budd is one of few North Carolina Republicans to meet face to face with a large group of constituents while Congress is in recess, though others, including Sen. Thom Tillis, have communicated with constituents via telephone town halls and Facebook live events. Town hall meetings held by Republican lawmakers in other states — most recently Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona — have devolved into shouting matches with angry voters vowing to kick them out of office.
That isn’t productive, said James Piedad, a Greensboro-based photographer and Budd supporter who was in favor of the more intimate meet-and-greet setting.
“It’s important to have a conversation, and it’s harder to be angry when you’re nose to nose with somebody,” he said. “A lot of Republicans aren’t doing anything like this. I felt I should come by to offer my support.”
Still, the format was confusing for many attendees, who came expecting to be able to hear the questions as well as the congressman’s replies. The frustration sparked a few outbursts and shouting matches between Republican and Democrat constituents, though the event remained largely civil. Halfway through, some people gave up on trying to hear and began sitting on the floor, calling out to those near the front of the crowd to find out what issue was being discussed and what answer Budd was giving.
“What’s the subject now?” a man yelled.
“Israel and Palestine!” a woman replied.
“What about it?”
“He likes the wall. Thinks it’s good.”
For some, it was less than ideal.
“I was hoping for something different,” said Sarah Davis, a Greensboro resident who waited for more than two hours to speak to Budd about health care, then received what she called a ‘non-answer.’ “A lot of people have been asking the same questions, but no one can hear them, and he’s not accountable for his answers, because no one will know what he said.”
Others appreciated the opportunity to speak to the congressman individually, even if they didn’t agree with his reply. Susie Barnes, a freelance writer from Greensboro, came to tell Budd how health-care subsidies through the Affordable Care Act have helped her family afford insurance.
Budd supports a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare. But he opposed a recent GOP-backed proposal to repeal and replace it, writing in an op-ed this month that the legislation did not go far enough in its attempts to undo regulations and mandates under the current law.
“For instance, the essential health-benefits mandate requires all insurance policies to provide certain types of care,” he wrote in the piece, which ran in the Winston-Salem Journal April 2. “It doesn’t matter if you need maternity care or not, mental-health care or not, you have to buy an insurance policy that covers it.”
That mandate also requires that insurance policies cover preventive care and prescription drugs, which Barnes needs to treat her epilepsy. Without proper care and medication, she can’t work or drive, which she hoped to explain to Budd, she said.
“It went very well,” she said. “I think this is a good format for getting information directly from him.”
Others were less satisfied. Catherine Magid, a Greensboro resident, asked Budd whether he’d met with insurance companies or prescription drug manufacturers to discuss ways to reduce health-care costs. It was a yes-or-no question, she said, but he didn’t really reply.
“He did not answer my question,” she said. “We’re thrilled that he’s come out, and I thanked him for that. He has been listening to what people are saying. But I wanted to hear his answer.”
Budd, who continued meeting constituents for about 30 minutes longer than scheduled, said later that the meet-and-greet format allowed people to ask more detailed questions than they might have during a more traditional town hall meeting.
“We talked to hundreds of people today, and I think people were able to address more private concerns that they may not be comfortable doing in a larger setting,” he said, adding that any blow-back is part of the job. “I serve in the people’s house and I represent the people. They get a chance every two years if they don’t like the way I serve.”