Sen. Jeff Flake felt the wrath of liberal constituents Thursday during a town hall in suburban Phoenix that produced a constant stream of boos, negative chants and angry criticism.
Flake addressed topics such as health care, border security, internet privacy, and actions by President Donald Trump’s administration during the fully packed town hall meeting in Mesa that lasted more than two hours.
The crowd repeatedly chanted “you work for us” and “shame on you” in response to Flake’s answers during his first public event with Arizonans since January. The senator has faced withering criticism for his voting record and avoiding town hall gatherings in recent months.
The atmosphere quickly heated up as people hurled angry questions and disapproval at the Republican senator for his positions on health care, defunding Planned Parenthood and voting for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
DeVos has been an outspoken backer of vouchers that let parents send their children to private schools with taxpayer money. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation last week that will make vouchers available to every student in Arizona — one of the broadest policies in the nation.
Many constituents grilled the senator on his support of DeVos and the effects she’ll have on the state’s schools.
On several occasions, Flake’s answers were drowned out by boos. He remained composed, thanking people for their concerns as he stood on the stage with his arms crossed or with his hands in the pockets of his blue jeans. “We disagree on Betsy DeVos, I’m sorry that we disagree,” he said on multiple occasions.
Flake, who was an outspoken critic against Trump during the election, sought some common ground when the constituents turned their ire toward the president’s campaign promise to build a wall across the border.
“The notion of a 2,000 mile wall, nobody believes that that’s going to happen,” he said. “But we do need border security.”
The senator is a moderate Republican seeking a second term in 2018, but is facing backlash from the left and right. A conservative former state lawmaker said she views Flake as part of the establishment and has already announced her candidacy to challenge him in the Republican primary next year. Liberals are upset with his votes in the opening months of the Trump administration.
Constituents criticized his legislation blocking internet privacy, which would allow telecommunications companies to track consumers browsing activities without permission and effectively dismantle regulations from former President Barack Obama’s administration furthering consumers’ online protections.
One constituent was concerned with Trump’s trips to Mar-a-Lago, pressing Flake on whether or not he was concerned about it as well. Others brought up Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns. Cheers erupted when a teenage girl described growing up in poverty and attacking Flake for his stance on Planned Parenthood.
House and Senate Republicans across the country have faced jeering crowds at town halls while home on congressional recesses, most notably during the debate over health care. Many GOP lawmakers avoided the events altogether. The outcry is similar to the opposition Democrats faced over their support of then-President Barack Obama’s health care law in 2010 by the burgeoning tea party movement.
After Flake decided against holding town hall meetings earlier this year, Arizona voters held various protests and rallies outside of the senator’s home and Phoenix office. Their opposition gave rise to the hashtag #SearchForFlake as groups such as Moms Demand Action and Indivisible of AZ led so-called search party events looking for Flake and demanding town hall meetings.
“Obviously, it’s about time,” Peoria resident Kristiana Bachman said at the town hall. “It looked like he was going to continue to try to duck us but apparently he feels some responsibility to his constituents.”