History, civics and journalism students at West Henderson High got a chance to practice what their teachers have been preaching Friday when U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows stopped by to answer their questions about political issues.
Speaking for about an hour, Meadows encouraged students to look at the truth in both sides of every argument. If they can do that, he said, it will ultimately make them great journalists, great citizens and make the nation a better place.
“The responsibility of a journalist is critically important, because the power of the pen is something that not only transforms, but it also informs,” Meadows said.
After pulling some student volunteers to explain how bills are introduced and become law, Meadows fielded a slew of tough and pointed questions from the students on topics ranging from internet privacy legislation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Donald Trump’s tweets. Most of the questions, however, revolved around the failed attempt by Republicans to pass the American Health Care Act, the GOP’s bid to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Meadows said it wasn’t a surprise that the students asked “excellent questions,” sometimes more direct than he even gets in the capitol, and added that “they’re going to make some great journalists.”
Meadows, chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, is an opponent of the GOP measure. The congressman has been in the spotlight in the past couple of weeks, along with the entire Freedom Caucus, portrayed as being at the center of the bill’s failure.
“It has put me in the headlines more than I care to be,” Meadows told the group Wednesday. He said the plan “is not better than the existing plan,” that it didn’t do enough to bring down premiums and that in casting a wider safety net, the plan didn’t do enough for those who have the highest need.
Meadows was even called out on Twitter by President Donald Trump, who tweeted at Meadows twice Thursday, saying “If @RepMarkMeadows, @Jim_Jordan and @Raul_Labrador would get on board we would have both great healthcare and massive tax cuts & reform,” and “Where are @RepMarkMeadows, @Jim_Jordan and @Raul_Labrador? #RepealANDReplace #Obamacare.”
Earlier in the week, he took aim at the Freedom Caucus, saying the group “was able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.” He also said “The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!”
But Meadows said he’s not worried.
“In the end I serve at the pleasure of the people of Western North Carolina and they’re going to judge me based on what I’ve done, not based on a 140-character tweet,” he said.
The direct tweets do add undue pressure, though, he told students. He said he had two options: respond or continue to focus on the people he serves, and he chose the latter.
After Meadows’ talk, students at West showed solidarity with him, taking group photos and tweeting them to the president, saying “this is what it’s really about.”
Students asked several questions about the AHCA, the bill’s fate, and other health care issues. Seventeen-year-old junior Hunter Koch asked how a clean repeal of the ACA, which would take away affordable health care for about 18 million Americans, constitutes “freedom” when it comes to the Freedom Caucus.
Meadows said the caucus’ position from the start has been to repeal and replace the legislation on the same day, noting that the group supported the replacement plan put forth by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). It needed a few amendments, he added, but it was never considered in earnest.
“I ultimately think what we’ll end up with is a partial repeal with a partial replacement that takes part of a couple of different things to address the freedom aspect that you’re talking about,” he said. “Because ultimately, if you’re mandating somebody that you have to do X, Y and Z, it’s not freedom.”
The other point is that this is a compassionate society, he said, and “we want to make sure there’s a hand up” for those who are struggling.
Koch said Meadows did a fair job of answering the question, but could have added more detail.
Meadows said he’s been working around the clock on the issue for the past few weeks and has been trying to get different groups together for negotiations. If something is brought to the table to help bring down premiums, he’s willing to make concessions as well, but there haven’t been meetings because of a reluctance to give up ground.
“There has not been a willingness on their part to meet, and part of that is because they believe that if they beat me up long enough that I’ll finally say yes, and that’s just being blunt about it,” he said, adding that he won’t vote for something that doesn’t drive down premiums.
Premiums have gone up by 30 to 35 percent, and under the AHCA would have continued to increase in the short term for Western North Carolina, he said. For the 11th District, they’d probably continue to increase over a 10-year period.
Another problem with the bill is how it handles the safety net aspect, covering people up to 850 percent of the poverty level, where the ACA covers those up to 400 percent of the poverty level, Meadows said. That may sound good, but the truth of the matter is that those earning 400 percent or below would have received less under the AHCA.
“My conservative philosophy says if we’re going to provide a safety net, provide it for those that have the greatest need,” he said. “Under the GOP plan, I would be getting a check from the federal government to help me pay for insurance, and I’m well above the poverty line, and I didn’t think that was fair.”
Obamacare has hurt a lot of people, Meadows added, and is something he campaigned against. But he also wants to make sure that if it goes, it’s replaced with something better.
“It’s critically important for me to make sure that we get it right,” he said. “Even if it sends me home for doing the right thing.”
He was also asked if he feels the two-state solution is the best route for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He answered that that’s the political answer — that a two-state solution is best — but if that would have solved the conflict, it would have solved it long ago.
Meadows, who serves on the Middle East and North Africa subcommittee, said if it was just a geographical issue, Israel and Palestine would make an agreement. What he thinks it will take is Israelis and Palestinians working together, adding that at a manufacturing facility, he saw Jews and Palestinians working side-by-side for the benefit of one another, even while fighting was taking place just a few miles away.
Special prosecutor for Russia investigation
Meadows said it’s premature to bring in a special prosecutor for the ongoing investigation into possible Russian interference in last year’s election.
The Senate Intel Committee, which is looking into the matter, is bipartisan and they need to be allowed to do their job, he said. There’s more headlines than substance, based on what he’s heard from committee members.
If the committee is inconclusive or leaves some doubt once it’s finished, at that point, further action like a special prosecutor or select committee would be appropriate, he said.
Bobby Slagle, an 18-year-old senior, asked Meadows how recent legislation to undo a Federal Communications Commission privacy rule, which is awaiting Trump’s signature after passing the House, would benefit him as an individual.
If Trump signs it into law, it could eventually allow internet providers to sell customers’ browsing information.
Meadows said his staff went back and forth on the measure, an issue where he saw truth on both sides. It came from a transparency standpoint on the issue of jurisdiction between the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission.
It was a difficult vote, as the measure would allow the sharing of cookies and other things, he said, adding that he’d be glad to follow up with Slagle on the issue.
“I feel like he didn’t answer my question,” Slagle said, describing it more as “dancing around” the answer.
A teacher asked Meadows about school vouchers, citing studies that show public schools making strides in improving test scores while charter schools weren’t. He asked why money would be taken from successful public schools like West to be given to “a failing experiment somewhere else.”
The short answer, Meadows said, “is that you wouldn’t.”
Meadows said he has unparalleled passion for public schools and that when he looks at the issue, he doesn’t see it as the necessity of taking money from public schools, rather providing more options and “not boxing somebody in to a particular geographic location.”
Henderson County has great schools, but that’s not always the case elsewhere, he said.
“I’m an advocate to say, ‘Let’s strengthen our public schools; let’s give students more options,'” he said. “But let’s make sure the results match it. The reports that you’re talking about are critically important.”
Trump budget proposal
Meadows said he has different agendas on the budget than the outline presented by President Trump, not only concerning the Appalachian Regional Commission, which Trump’s outline eliminates, but also with other areas like Meals on Wheels, the cuts to which he called troubling.
“We’re going to be working on our budget to hopefully” realign some of the priorities for Western North Carolina, he said.
Meadows talks health care, Trump tweets at West Henderson – News – Hendersonville Times-News