Talks turn heated over many issues as Congressman Reed meets with residents.

MANCHESTER — The impact of repealing the Affordable Care Act. Steep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency budget. President Donald Trump’s taxes and his ties to Russia.

These issues and others sparked a heated town hall meeting Saturday in Manchester. And Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, was at the center of it all.

This was Reed's third of four town hall meetings on Saturday across the 23rd District, which includes a portion of Ontario County. This marked the first time in over a year Reed has met with county residents in this fashion.

The crowd at the Manchester Town Hall spilled out into the parking lot, but what they couldn't see in person they heard. The discussion inside the building was broadcast over a PA system so those outside could hear the fiery debate.

Clipboards with pieces of paper were handed out to the substantial crowd to jot down questions for the congressman to address. The pile of questions continued to grow throughout the meeting, reaching more than 100 pieces of paper before the meeting concluded.

Several times the discussions grew tense, with the bulk of the vocal crowd disagreeing with Reed on a majority of issues brought up. The boos from the crowd first started during the discussion of the Affordable Care Act’s repeal, which was the first and most prominent topic explored during the event. 

“As you can tell, health care is the issue of the day,” Reed said. “It is critical that we get this issue right and that we do not rush into this in a way that people don’t know what is happening.” 

He pointed out that misinformation is out there based on previous town hall meetings — including talk about mental health coverage being taken from health care services with the replacement package, which he doesn’t see happening. 

“There has been some question about what is going to happen after repeal,” Reed said. “I will tell you, there is some thought or belief that we are going to pull the rug out from people. There are some folks in D.C. — and maybe this is where that’s coming from — who have advocated for that. I do not subscribe to that philosophy. I subscribe to a repeal with a transition period to the replacement policies that we’re talking about.” 

Holding an American flag, Mary Rivera of Manchester approached Reed at one point during the health care discussion.

“I want you to understand what it means to my life,” Rivera told Reed. “If I don’t have health care, I maybe would live for two years. I have stage 4 kidney disease and my life is in your hands. Are you going to take responsibility for my life, sir?

“I have one grandchild, and if I don’t live at least two more years, she will not remember me,” she continued, growing tearful. “And I want you to understand how important it is. … I did everything right and people deserve to know that they are going to be able to rely on health care that is compassionate and caring.”

Her story was met with applause. Another crowd member asked why there has to be an Affordable Care Act repeal, rather than reform. This led to another explosion of cheering. 

As the meeting progressed, Reed was set to answer another question on health care, which led to further disagreement. 

“Let’s talk about other things,” someone belted out.

“Let’s talk about Russia,” someone else shouted, before being given the floor to ask about it.

The speaker questioned why there hasn’t been a furtherance of an investigation into Trump’s campaign and his connection with Russia. Trump has long expressed a wish for better ties with Russia and praised Russian President Vladimir Putin. Also, U.S. Intelligence has accused Russia of meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign to benefit Trump.

“Is he on the side of America? … If there’s nothing to hide, there’s nothing to hide,” the attendee said. 

Reed told the crowd that it is a legitimate concern. He pointed out that the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes and Senate Intelligence Committee are committed to exploring the accusations. 

“The process needs to take its course,” Reed said.

A sign being brandished during the meeting read, “Stop Hiding Trump’s Taxes." One of the attendees addressed the topic by mentioning a New Jersey representative's push to use a 1924 tax law that would allow Congress to examine tax returns for the purpose of determining if conflicts exist. It was legislation that Reed dismissed. 

"Why are you keeping Donald Trump's tax returns secret?" the attendee asked the congressman. 

"Because that is a tremendous amount of power to put in the IRS' hands," Reed said. The remainder of his comments were drowned out by the crowd's heckling.

He added that as an American citizen, Trump has the right to keep his returns a secret, which was met with more heckles. 

"I'd rather see his birth certificate," shouted out Canandaigua City Councilmember Anita Twitchell, taking a jab at the push to see former President Barack Obama's birth certificate during his presidency. 

The EPA also was a hot topic. The Trump administration has aimed at slashing programs developed for slowing climate change and improving water safety and air quality, according to a draft of the EPA budget proposal obtained by The Associated Press. 

Reed acknowledged his support for the cuts. 

“It is true, I come at it with a level of distrust at the agencies having a tremendous amount of power that has gone unchecked for quite some time,” Reed said, which was met with a mix of cheers and boos. 

Mary D’Amico, of Manchester, referenced numbers from a 2008 report on the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Those numbers show that for every $1 invested in the Great Lakes restoration, $2 resulted for tourism, fishing and home values.

“That’s my primary concern — the environment,” D'Amico said. “I want to make sure my land keeps its value and that the air is clean, the water is clean, that these Great Lakes restoration initiatives stay in place.”

As she spoke, a woman standing next to her held a sign that read, “Save our planet.” 

Reed said he saw “common ground” with the Manchester resident, pointing that he had grown up on Keuka Lake.

“Reasonable regulation to achieve the success that we have seen, to me makes sense,” Reed said. “It’s when you go too far. Now we’ve gone too far. Rather than saying we had success and celebrating the success, we’re still in the ’70s.”

Another visitor expressed concern that without the EPA funding, the country will be spending for the cleanup down the line. 

“Because we’re not watching now,” D’Amico said. 

Reed also was asked if he was accepting money from the fossil-fuel industry, which Reed said is not his motivation for support. The congressman added that he is an “all-the-above energy policy for America.”

“I have not just talked the talk, I have been the lead Republican, for example, on investment tax credits, production tax credits, I think I am known as the solar Republican in Washington,” Reed said, which was met with claps from the crowd. “I do see the wisdom in making sure that we’re always looking over that horizon for new energy technologies. But for the present I also ... support the development of coal.

“We can’t just turn off all fossil fuel-based production in America today and go to renewable energies by tomorrow,” Reed said. 

As the shouting took hold at times, others in the crowd called for quiet, so the congressman could talk.

“I would like you to put yourself in our shoes,” said Geneva resident Aaron Cooper. “The ones who cannot really work, the ones who are working two minimum wage jobs and still can’t get all the bills paid. The ones who have to chose between food, medication, housing. I want to know how you as a person … what would you think? What would you feel?”

“It’s called compassion,” another person shouted out at Reed.

Reed appeared empathetic.  

“I try to walk in those shoes,” the congressman said. “I can’t walk exactly in your shoes … but I am listening to you.”’