RENO, Nev. (AP) — Nevada Republican U.S. Sen. Dean Heller distanced himself Monday from the Trump administration’s immigration and health care policies at a sometimes combative town hall meeting with hundreds of critics.
Considered one of the most vulnerable GOP senators up for re-election next year, Heller also insisted he supports Planned Parenthood’s family planning efforts despite his recent vote to allow individual states to defund the program.
“It didn’t repeal money for Planned Parenthood,” he said. “I think the states should be making those kinds of decisions.”
That response drew boos and jeers from many in the crowd of more than 600 at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center where Heller co-hosted the 2-hour event with Rep. Mark Amodei, another Nevada Republican.
Several times, audience members shouted, “Answer the question,” and at one point started chanting, “Yes or no, yes or no?”
Heller, who refused to endorse President Trump during the election, has come under fire from those who accuse him of following lock-step behind the new administration.
“I want our representatives and senators to remember they represent the whole state, not just folks who voted for them,” said Elayn Briggs of Carson City, one of dozens of women at the town hall who wore pink tee shirts reading, “I stand with Planned Parenthood.”
Heller said he’s proud of his ability to work with Democrats. He pointed to his recent opposition to Trump’s proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act and said comments Trump has made about immigration were “one of the reasons I couldn’t support him.”
“There is no one back in Washington, D.C., who works across the aisle more than I do,” he said.
Heller said he was among 14 Republican senators who voted for comprehensive immigration reform three years ago and continues to support creating a path for many immigrants currently in the country illegally to become citizens.
“Families should be kept together. But if you are here illegally and have a criminal element, you should be deported,” Heller said.
On health care, he said he wants “to make sure everyone is taken care of.”
“I talked to the vice president and told him what they were doing didn’t work for Nevada,” he said. “Under the current form, there’s no chance I’m going to support it.”
Nevada’s Democratic Party said in a statement afterward that Heller “lied repeatedly about his record of trying to defund Planned Parenthood” and repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“While we’ve gotten used to Sen. Heller changing positions to suit his audience, his blatant lying was an insult to his constituents,” party spokesman Stewart Boss said.
Advocates for the environment, social programs and women’s reproductive rights are among those who’ve been staging regular protests outside Heller’s Las Vegas and Reno offices. Several accused him Monday of being evasive and divisive.
One woman pointed to a Ronald Reagan quote Heller posted on social media Sunday suggesting Republicans stand for freedom and Democrats for taxes.
She asked whether Heller thought it would help or hurt efforts to unite the country.
Heller answered that he’s a conservative and often quotes Reagan. Pressed by the crowd to answer the question, he said he didn’t think the quote was extreme or that Reagan was divisive.