CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) – Democratic Congressman Joe Cunningham of South Carolina promised constituents at a town hall in Charleston that he will echo their concerns about the Trump administration, health care and other issues in the legislative halls of Washington, D.C.
In November, Cunningham turned the Charleston area’s political tide from red to blue with his win against Republican Katie Arrington that was partly attributed to his stance against offshore drilling. Cunningham is the first Democrat to represent South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District since the 1980s.
Speaking Tuesday night in the cafeteria of West Ashley Middle School, Cunningham said he is staying in touch with the residents of his district so he can better represent them in D.C.
“This is not my seat in Congress, it is your seat. The doors of my offices are always open to you and we want to hear from you,” Cunningham said to the crowd of about 50 people gathered at the school.
Constituents spoke up about special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on 2016 election interference, campaign finance reform, offshore drilling and rising health care costs, among other issues.
When questioned about his stance on impeaching President Donald Trump, Cunningham said he is not on the impeachment bandwagon but is highly concerned about some of the president’s ethically questionable actions that were revealed in the Mueller report.
He said members of the House Oversight Committee will make sure they have their ducks in a row before taking action. Instead of relying on impeachment to unseat the president, Cunningham said voters should remove Trump from office at the polls next year.
“It’s important that we take a deep breath and make decisions based on facts, not emotion. There is no reason to celebrate anything in that report. It revealed highly alarming actions of the president and that Russia attacked our elections,” Cunningham said.
Critiquing U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s rollout of the report, Cunningham said he needs to remember he is the nation’s attorney, not the president’s personal counsel.
“We should use every single tool in our tool box to ensure no other country interferes with our ballot boxes. Our election process is what sets us apart from other countries,” he said. “Saying there is nothing wrong with sharing information with Russia gives me a lot of heartburn. The details of that report are sobering.”
On the topic of campaign finance reform, Cunningham said it’s important for political action committees to be transparent so voters know who is financially influencing the elected officials that are accepting those funds. Cunningham refused to accept PAC funds during his 2018 campaign.
“This issue is the cornerstone of HR 1,” he said, referring to a sweeping elections reform bill passed by the House last month. “It’s about the people’s voting rights and getting dirty money out of politics. It also aims to set up an independent commission to make sure districts are not drawn for gerrymandering,”
Several attendees vocalized concerns about climate change and transforming from a society that relies on fossil fuels to a green energy culture.
“Here in the low country we see the affects of climate change firsthand. We deal with increased flooding and intensifying hurricanes. Our actions impact the environment. We need to be forward thinking and move toward renewable resources to lessen our carbon footprint,” Cunningham said.
The Democrat’s congressional win last fall hinged on his strong focus on banning offshore drilling. As he reflected on his first 100 days in Congress, Cunningham said he introduced a bill to ban seismic blasting tests and offshore drilling during the legislative session’s first week.
“I believe that bill will pass the House later this year,” he said as the crowd erupted in cheers.
Several constituents spoke against rising health care costs.
“I don’t want insurance, I want health care. The money goes from working peoples’ pockets into corporations’ pockets,” one attendee said.
The father of two explained that the first $20,000 of his annual income goes to keeping his family alive. While Cunningham said he does not support Medicare for all, he supports an overhaul of the health care system.
“Shoddy insurance plans have families paying what is equal to a mortgage. We are paying more and getting less. Many insurance plans no longer provide co-pays for doctor visits or prescriptions. We need to make sure health care is affordable and effective,” he said
The discussion about the Affordable Care Act circled back to PAC funds, particularly funds flowing from Big Pharma into the pockets of elected officials.
“This administration is trying to pull the rug out from under the ACA. The rising cost of prescriptions is due to the fact that Big Pharma has been allowed to stay in the driver’s seat, that’s how we got here. There is no reason for elected officials to accept PAC funds, this is the people’s House, the people’s Senate,” Cunningham said.
One town hall participant suggested that people can do their part by ending their support to organizations that contribute to PACs.
Cunningham’s staff took notes during the hour-long question and answer session and the congressman lingered in the parking lot to speak with several attendees.
He plans to visit other locations in his district before returning to Washington on Monday.