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Watch: Chris Collins gives Trump 'A' grade in CNN town hall

WASHINGTON – If Rep. Chris Collins thought a televised town hall on CNN would be easier to manage than a town hall in his district, CNN’s Van Jones proved him sadly mistaken on Thursday night.

On a town hall series called “The Messy Truth,” telecast from a studio in New York rather than held in a fire hall in New York’s 27th Congressional District, Jones subjected the Republican congressman from Clarence to one tough question – and questioner – after another.

Among the toughest was one of Collins’ constituents, Renee Sutton of Canandaigua.

“How do you justify your appearance here tonight, with a national audience here on CNN outside of our district, with an audience not consisting of your constituents, when the actual people you represent are asking to meet with you and you refuse to do it?” Sutton asked.

Collins answered by repeating the answer he’s given repeatedly: that he meets with constituents all the time in his office and in meetings all across his district – and that those meetings are far more productive than a raucous town hall filled with protesters.

“I have never seen the value of the time commitment for a town hall when in fact I can spend my time with a group of dairy farmers, with a group of health care professionals, for a half hour or an hour and have a real give and take,” Collins said.

Collins had a real give-and-take thanks to Jones, a former Barack Obama staffer who brought a distinctly Democratic flavor to the questions he asked – and the questioners he chose.

Jones opened the program with a stinging indictment of President Trump, accusing him of reneging on his promises to help the little guy and instead offering a budget that hurts the disadvantaged.

Collins – one of Trump’s most televised defenders – responded by arguing that Trump was doing everything he had promised to do.

But Trump promised a health care plan that covered all Americans, only to turn around and back a House Republican plan that would, according to the Congressional Budget Office, leave 24 million uninsured.

Jones turned the floor over to a Trump voter from Florida, Bob Ruscoe, to ask Collins about why Trump wanted to end the routine exams and the rest of the health care that Ruscoe and his family got under the Affordable Care Act.

Collins replied that some changes were made because Obamacare is imploding and “because insurance companies have to pay their bills.”

Jones then showed a video shot in a dingy New York apartment where he interviewed an elderly woman named Christa Patton. She explained that she had not left her apartment in seven years and said she relied on Meals on Wheels – a program Trump’s budget would cut by 30 percent – for her meals.

Asked if he would defend Trump’s budget, the congressman refused.

“I’m not going to try to just because it’s not my plan,” he said.

He then called Meals on Wheels “a wonderful program, one that I wouldn’t even move to cut one dollar.”

That confrontation was just a sample of what was to come for Collins.

Jones then presented him with a young woman who was brought into America illegally and who was worried about being deported – which has happened to some such “dreamers” who have spoken out since Trump became president. “Dreamers” refer to young undocumented immigrants brought here as children who attended U.S. schools and identify as Americans.

Collins' resistance to holding town halls stirs opposition

Collins denied that such deportations were taking place and said to the young woman: “We wish you a very bright future in America.”

Jones followed that by presenting Collins with a distraught father who had lost a son to opioid addiction. The man demanded more action from the federal government, but Collins suggested that the man – a New York resident – contact Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for help instead.

Trump had campaigned repeatedly on the opioid issue, promising to offer a federal solution – and Jones showed his audience videos of the presidential candidate doing just that.

Despite such evidence that Trump wasn’t living up to his promises, the program ended with Collins saying Trump deserves an “A” grade for his performance so far.

To which Jones asked: “Do you mean one A out of 10?”, positing that Trump deserved the equivalent of a one on a one-to-10 scale.

Column: Chris Collins steers clear of his constituents

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