Facing what could be a tough race for re-election, Kansas Congressman Kevin Yoder appeared determined to strike a bipartisan tone Tuesday night in his first in-person town hall meeting since last year’s election.
He stressed the importance of civility and working across the aisle several times during the meeting sponsored by the Kansas City Star, touting his work with Democrats to expand child-care tax credits and strengthen privacy laws.
But the four-term Republican held to the party line when responding to repeated questions about his vote for a controversial GOP health care bill and President Donald Trump’s fitness for office.
Yoder repeated his criticism of the president for not “clearly and directly” repudiating white nationalists and neo-Nazis for the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va., but praised his “strong leadership” on the economy and national security.
Noting that during his first six years in office he regularly received calls from people urging President Barack Obama’s impeachment, Yoder said he saw no reason to take calls for Trump’s ouster more seriously.
“The president has been duly elected,” Yoder said. “He deserves the right and chance to lead this country.”
Many in the audience of approximately 100 at Olathe City Hall booed Yoder when he responded to a question about the Trump’s documented propensity for lying by saying: “I don’t know who lies in this country. But I will say the president — I believe — gets up every day with the best interests of this country at heart.”
Yoder defended his vote for a controversial Obamacare replacement bill that would have increased the numbered of uninsured Americans by 22 million, insisting the bill included protections not accounted for in the Congressional Budget Office estimate.
He said he’s willing to consider a bipartisan approach to stabilizing the Obamacare marketplace while Congress continues to debate long-term health policy.
“I’m not one of these people who says, ‘You know, we ought to just let it fall apart,’” Yoder said. “I’m committed to doing what we need to do to stabilize and bring insurers into the market while we fix the broken parts of Obamacare.”
Yoder’s bid for a fifth term is expected to be his toughest. He’s running in a district that Trump narrowly lost to Hillary Clinton and Democrats have targeted in their effort to regain the majority in the U.S. House.
Sensing opportunity in a potential anti-Trump wave, several Democrats are competing for the right to challenge Yoder in Kansas’ 3rd District. In addition to 2016 nominee Jay Sidie, they include Andrea Ramsey, a retired corporate attorney and former president of a nonprofit health care clinic, Tom Niermann, a high school history teacher, and Brent Welder, a labor attorney who rose to prominence in the party as a supporter of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.
Several of Yoder’s opponents have criticized him for ducking town hall meetings. They were also critical of Tuesday’s event because of limited seating and the process the Star’s editorial board used to select participants.
Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.