ONONDAGA — From health care to President Donald Trump, U.S. Rep. John Katko addressed several topics — and a spirited audience — during a televised town hall meeting at Onondaga Community College Monday.
The town hall meeting, which aired on CNYCentral channels 3 and 5, kicked off with a question about Trump's proposed budget and three specific cuts he proposed to Meals on Wheels, the Environmental Protection Agenda and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Katko, R-Camillus, said none of the cuts materialized because it's Congress, not the president, that controls the budget process.
On Trump's executive order that prevents refugees from Syria and select Muslim majority nations from entering the U.S., Katko panned the way it was rolled out, even though he agreed with the goal, which was to ensure terrorists don't enter the U.S.
"I have no problem with refugees so long as they're properly vetted," he said.
Later in the town hall meeting, Katko was asked a poll question of sorts: Does he approve or disapprove of how Trump is doing as president. His answer: neither.
Katko said Trump has done some good things. He admires how the president is "running to issues instead of running away from them." But he does have some concerns. He mentioned the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russia.
Aside from Trump, the GOP congressman was asked a mix of domestic and foreign policy questions. On North Korea, he said the rogue nation's recent missile test was "concerning."
"It's one of the most profound issues we face today," he said. "It is an existential threat to our existence."
The key to addressing the North Korean threat, Katko said, is China. He noted that China has been a protector of the North Korean regime in the past.
He has personal reasons for worrying about North Korea. His son, who graduated from SUNY Geneseo Saturday, will be sworn into the Army as a second lieutenant this weekend.
Health care loomed as major issue throughout the town hall meeting. Katko was one of 20 Republicans who voted against the GOP bill that would dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
Katko reiterated his pledge that he would support repealing the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, as long as there was a viable replacement ready to be implemented.
When one audience member asked why he didn't support universal health care, Katko questioned its viability.
"I don't believe, in this country, that a single payer health plan will work," he said.
Katko faced criticism throughout the forum. With about 130 people in attendance, the audience shouted out follow-up questions and chastised the Republican congressman for his positions, especially on Trump.
Outside of OCC's Storer Auditorium, the site of Monday's town hall meeting, more than 100 people held a rally and urged Katko to meet with them. They called the gathering the "People's Town Hall."
Dana Balter, an activist and member of CNY Solidarity Coalition, a group that organized the rally, said the town hall meeting was a "one-hour infomercial" for Katko.
CNY Solidary Coalition has been urging Katko to hold a town hall meeting for months. But they wanted a less controlled environment. Monday's forum had rules and the audience was initially limited to 100 people. About 30 more people were added due to demand.
"That's really not fulfilling what the obligation of a town hall is," she said.
Inside the auditorium, one of the final questions of the town hall meeting was about the negativity in government and politics. Even though he was booed and heckled at times, Katko showed his appreciation to the crowd for coming and asking questions.
"People have passion, and I totally respect that," he said.
The town hall meeting was Katko's first general forum since being sworn in as central New York's congressional representative in 2015. He's held issue-specific discussions throughout his first two-plus years in Congress.
One of the moderators, CNYCentral's Michael Benny, asked Katko at the end of the event when he'll hold his next town hall meeting.
For now, he doesn't have another scheduled.