CLEMSON — The Brooks Center at Clemson University was standing room only as nearly a thousand Upstate residents showed up in force for the chance to have a meaningful dialogue with Sen. Lindsay Graham.
The Town Hall meeting on Saturday was just the most recent in a string of events prominent Republicans have been holding in an effort to calm the concerns of their constituents following the controversial policies enacted by President Trump.
“Let’s be honest here, you all here are more liberal than the majority of South Carolinians,” said Graham.
“We are South Carolinians!” the crowd yelled back, waving red pieces of paper in the air to show their disagreement.
It never got any better.
Graham was heckled and booed through much of the meeting and at one point — during a question about the Affordable Care Act — an older man wearing a veterans hat in the front row stood, pointed and angrily shouted that the Senator was “a traitor.”
“I tell you what, you’re going to get kicked out in about 30 seconds if you don’t shut up,” Graham snapped back, the only time during the meeting he lost his composure.
“Do you all want the same health care I have? Good. You need to join the Air Force, serve 33 years and you can have it,” said Graham.
The Senator stated that he hadn’t seen the Republican replacement for the ACA but that going to a single payer system would be a “disaster.”
“If you want to go to a single payer model (for health insurance) — don’t vote for me,” Graham said.
Things got particularly rowdy when the moderator read out a question from the audience asking what was going to be done about “the targeting of African Americans by police.”
“I’ve never had one citizen come up to me and say they were being targeted by the FBI,” said Graham. “Do you know someone? Give me their name. Give me their name.”
The crowd booed and jeered with many shouting he hadn’t answered the question at all — and one African American man stood silently with his hand up.
“Let him speak! Let him speak!” the crowd shouted before Graham finally acknowledged the man.
“Have you been targeted by the FBI because you’re African American?” Graham asked him.
“I’m from Greenville, South Carolina and I believe the question was about the police, not the FBI,” said the man. “So the question is about African Americans being targeted by police — like I have been in the past.”
Questions about the confirmation of Betsy DeVos led to mixed reactions in the audience: While most people agreed with Graham about the importance of public schools, they heartily disagreed that DeVos should have been appointed as Secretary of Education.
Graham defended his confirmation vote by saying he was going to support President Trump and that he was entitled to pick his own cabinet — as every president has in the past.
“You lost an election and you’re acting like it doesn’t matter,” he said. “Let me tell you about Betsy Devos: She didn’t give me a penny. I think I’m the only Republican she didn’t give a dime to. The bottom line is I thought she was qualified. Let’s see how she does.”
“It’s frustrating because we are his constituents and he acts like we don’t count because we’re not conservative,” said Margaret Cureton of Greenville. “Like it or not, he represents me — he should at least take our concerns seriously. I don’t feel like he did that at all.”
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.