Congress did not meet this week, with many politicians leaving Washington for their home states in what the Senate refers to as a “State Work Period.” Several members of Congress instead took this time to meet with their constituents in town halls. A town hall in Virginia on Tuesday, for instance, held by Rep. David Brat “featured an America that’s peaceful but pleading to be heard, that promises not to relent.”
A few theaters and auditoriums were tenser than others. In places like Springdale High School auditorium, in the Arkansas Ozarks, that unrelenting America erupted like a white-hot Yellowstone geyser. There, on Wednesday, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton fielded questions from concerned citizens.
Although the anecdotal nature of town halls made it impossible to determine if the anger on display was artificially inflated or not, a few spoke with clear passion. One woman told Cotton that, were it not for the Affordable Care Act, three members of her family would be dead.
“I am an angry constituent,” the woman said. “You work for us.” She implored the senator to meet with her family to hear her story.
If there was a citizen in the Springdale crowd who received more applause, it was the last person to hold the microphone. Toby Smith — age 7 “but almost 8” — told Sen. Cotton that he found President Donald Trump’s comments about Mexico concerning.
“Donald Trump makes Mexicans not important to people who are in Arkansas who like Mexicans,” Toby said, pointing out that those Arkansans include himself and his grandma. Crucially for Toby, too, Trump’s proposed border with Mexico wall posed a threat to PBS Kids and the national parks.
Under a possible Trump administration plan to shrink federal spending, reported in January, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be privatized. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting allocates funds to nonprofit television and radio stations through NPR and the Public Broadcasting Service; this includes PBS Kids, which boasts long-running shows like “Arthur” and the newer “Dinosaur Train.” The National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, according to the reported plan, would be eliminated completely.
There was also concern that a federal hiring freeze would hit the National Park Service particularly hard, as the parks rely on finding seasonal help during the summer. On Monday the Park Service learned that the summer hires would be exempt.
Cotton thanked Toby for coming and said, “We are a melting pot. We are all one people.”
“We want Mexico to be a healthy, strong partner,” said the senator, adding he wanted to see the U.S. help Mexico with its crime and drug cartel problems. “But we also have to protect our own citizens, and that’s where the wall comes in.”
The proposed wall along the Mexico border was recently estimated to cost $21.6 billion over more than three years. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting received $445 million in federal funding in 2016, or about 0.02 percent of the federal budget. Were that budget applied to the proposed wall, those funds would cover 2 percent of the nearly 2,000-mile-long wall.
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