As the August recess for Congress nears its end, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX-35) hosted a town hall at the Riveter in downtown Austin.
It served as a stark contrast to the raucous town hall for Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX-21) last week, which featured audience members shouting and arguing with the congressman and each other. With no protests, Doggett’s town hall was more akin to the recent one held by Rep. Lance Gooden (R-TX-5).
In a room of about fifty, the congressman spent the forefront of the evening’s discussion on the hot topics of healthcare, homelessness, and gun control.
Before opening the floor for questions, Doggett gave some introductory remarks.
“Of all the many things that have happened that are distressing over the last couple of years,” he said, “I think one of the most difficult ones to deal with is the general degrading of our civic dialogue — our inability to talk with people of different points of view without assuming that they are bad people.”
He continued to preface the night’s conversation by saying that although he would talk about any given issue, “across America there is one issue and that is Donald Trump.”
Doggett has previously supported impeachment procedures aimed against the president.
He continued by criticizing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for ignoring a list of bills passed by the House that will likely not be voted on by the Senate, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has dubbed his “graveyard.”
Since Doggett is the chair of the Ways and Means health subcommittee, the first and longest topic of discussion with the audience was healthcare.
He noted the problem of diabetes that he has seen across his district in San Antonio and Austin and highlighted his concerns of price gouging on pharmaceuticals like insulin.
One audience member who is a part of the Austin Democratic-Socialists of America group asked Doggett if he supported abolishing private health insurance, which he likened to a vampire “sucking money out of the healthcare system,” by passing a taxpayer-funded “Medicare for All” program instead.
The question on healthcare has become a prominent point of contention in the Democratic presidential primary.
Some, like former Vice President Joe Biden, have advocated for expanding and improving Obamacare. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) has argued for a “Medicare for All” plan that would abolish private insurance immediately, while Beto O’Rourke has argued for a “Medicare for All” that would gradually move everyone to a taxpayer-funded healthcare system.
Doggett replied that he is not committed to any single approach, saying, “I’ve signed on to a series of bills — kind of an ‘all of the above’ approach, recognizing that there’s not a perfect one and there’s also not a perfect one we get through the political system.”
He also said that he wants to expand Medicare in its current form to cover hearing, vision, and dental costs.
Later, the conversation shifted from healthcare to the homelessness problem in Austin.
In July, the Austin City Council changed an ordinance to allow homeless camping in public spaces. Since then, multiple businesses have reported safety concerns and over 28,000 people have signed a petition to rescind the ordinance.
“I’m not endorsing every aspect of what the mayor has done,” Doggett said, “but I think he’s shown great courage in elevating this issue and saying ‘if you don’t want this homeless center in your neighborhood’ — which most people wouldn’t want — ‘how would you want to help get these people off the streets?’”
Doggett wants to see federal policies to “back up what the mayor and the city are doing.”
“Each year we have done less to meet housing needs and affordable housing needs from the federal government,” he continued. “There is a need for more to incentivize and back up those local programs to see how many of these folks we might save and get refocused on jobs.”
Later in the evening, gun control was brought up.
He expressed his continued support for H.R. 8, the “Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019.” Despite its name, 232 Democrats and 8 Republicans in the House voted for it, while 2 Democrats and 188 Republicans voted against it.
Doggett also brought up the idea of “red flag laws,” which have been discussed recently by several Republican leaders. He said that they were “a good idea,” but added that “they also are fairly narrow in scope.”
He also argued for banning “weapons of war” and “high-capacity ammunition clips.”
Near the end of the night, Doggett spoke on several other notable issues.
On immigration, he said he hoped Trump administration’s recent immigration rule change to the Flores Settlement Agreement would be successfully challenged in court.
He also argued that we need to address the “climate crisis” with a sense of urgency and take action to keep the United States from withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.
When asked about President Trump’s trade policy with China, Doggett replied, “My feeling is that the original objective that Trump had was not an unreasonable one — that the Chinese are engaged in some illegal subsidies that they are stealing our intellectual property. But you don’t do it the way he’s done it.”
He argued that the president should have cooperated more with European countries in addressing the concerns rather than approaching the situation unilaterally.
Notably, Doggett said that he found it easier to “sit down and talk with” Trump’s trade ambassador, Robert Lighthizer, than with the official under President Obama. “But he works for Trump,” he quickly added, “and that’s a tough job, I think — even tougher than opposing Trump.”
Doggett has served as a U.S. representative since 1995. Prior to his time in Congress, he served as a senator in the Texas State Senate and as a justice on the Texas Supreme Court.
Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. While recently finishing his degree in Political Science from Azusa Pacific University, he also interned in the U.S. Senate and co-authored a book on C. S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy. In his spare time, he might be reading up on Dostoevsky or attempting to write a novel.