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Rep. Tom Garrett hosts first town hall meeting since taking office

Congressman says he opposes refugee ban, believes Russia attempted to influence presidential election

<p>Attendees asked Garrett about his thoughts on healthcare, potential Russian influence on the presidential election&nbsp;and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.</p>

Attendees asked Garrett about his thoughts on healthcare, potential Russian influence on the presidential election and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) held his first town hall meeting since taking office in January for his Fifth Congressional District constituents March 31 at Garrett Hall.

The seating for the town hall was a source of controversy leading up to the event, as seating was limited to 230 attendees — 50 Batten students and 180 attendees selected through a lottery system. The system drew criticism from University Democrats and some other constituents.

The 230-person cap was an expansion upon an original 135-person limit for the town hall.

Moderator and Batten School Dean Allan Stam addressed the lack of space in his first question to Garrett. Garrett said the smaller location was chosen in order to ensure the safety of the people who wanted to attend.

“Unfortunately, as we’ve seen on the news the last few months, there is the potential for circumstances to go beyond our control of people with good intentions,” Garrett said. “I’d love to have a larger venue, and I wanted the people I love to be able to attend this town hall without fearing for their safety.”

However, some of the protesters who managed to receive tickets disrupted the meeting from the inside. As Garrett began to speak, a group of people stood with a banner that read “No Dialogue With White Supremacy” and chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, white supremacy has got to go.” The group was escorted out of the room by police, and Garrett said he agreed with their statements.

Attendees were asked to submit paper questions to Garrett as they arrived, and Stam read the questions aloud to Garrett and the audience. After Garrett’s initial answer, the individual who posed the question was given the opportunity to ask a follow-up question.

Health care was the first topic addressed. Although Garrett voted against the American Health Care Act, he said believes there are problems with the Affordable Care Act.

“The problem is there is a massive disconnect between coverage and care,” Garrett said. “If you don’t need mental health treatment but you’re paying for mental health treatment, then your deductible is going to be more.”

Garrett was also asked to respond to allegations of Russian influence in the presidential election. He said he “absolutely, positively” believes there was “an effort by the Russians to influence the elections.”

“If someone can show me evidence that a single vote was changed, then I think that’s tantamount to an act of war, but I haven’t seen it,” Garrett said. “The reality is there’s no evidence that a single vote was changed.”

Garrett said if any officials are found to have worked with the Russians, he would support their removal.

“If it is determined that officials within the current administration colluded with the Russians to obtain their office, yes, I would support their removal,” Garrett said.

He also alleged the U.S. has attempted to influence foreign elections, linking the Obama administration and Israeli elections specifically.

In response to a question on Trump’s travel ban of refugees and immigrants from six predominantly-Muslim countries, Garrett said he does not agree with temporarily banning all refugees.

“Let me be explicitly clear — I just want to make sure the people who are coming in are coming in for the right reasons,” Garrett said. “Heightened vetting — not a refugee ban because that’s stupid and un-American — is what we need to do.”

Locally, Garrett was questioned about his views on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which is planned to be built through part of the Fifth District.

“I support pipelines and infrastructure, but I don’t necessarily support this pipeline,” Garrett said. “I believe we need infrastructure to include pipelines.”

At the end of the event, Garrett thanked all of the attendees for engaging in discussion with him and voicing their opinions.

“Whether you think I’m the best congressman or the worst congressman ever, thank you for being here,” Garrett said. “We really want to have an honest discourse.”

Garrett will be hosting a second town hall on May 9 in Moneta, Va.