U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn encountered a restive crowd Friday during a Rochester town hall meeting.
The first-term GOP congressman's give-and-take with the audience elicited both angry outbursts from some and enthusiastic applause from others.
The crowd did not fill up the hall, but it was still a decent-sized crowd for a Friday evening meeting. Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce President Kathleen Harrington, who served as moderator, occasionally had to admonish the crowd when it threatened to get too unruly.
As Hagedorn discussed issues such as immigration and health care, the Mueller report and guns, critics would hold up colored sticky notes to signal their disapproval of what he said.
There was heavy security, with uniformed police officers lined against the back wall and stationed at entrances of the Heintz Center at Rochester Community and Technical College.
It was Hagedorn's first town hall in Olmsted County since he flipped the First District seat once held by now-DFL Gov. Tim Walz into the Republican column.
Perhaps anticipating the mixed reception he might get in a DFL-leaning county, Hagedorn pointed out that he ran and won on a conservative platform.
"Let's be honest," he said. "I'm a conservative. I've been a conservative my whole life."
Asked about the Mueller report, the result of a months-long investigation into whether President Donald Trump colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, Hagedorn said the report makes clear that the Trump campaign "rejected" overtures from Russian intermediaries.
But whether impeachment proceedings should go forward will ultimately depend on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats, who control the House.
"As it stands, I will not vote for impeachment," Hagedorn said to applause. "I don't think he did anything wrong in the campaign."
Perhaps the angriest response from his critics came when Hagedorn was asked about the family separations at the border. Asked about how he could justify government-sponsored child abuse, Hagedorn said he disagreed with that characterization.
"These are not concentration camps," Hagedorn said over the shouts from some in the crowd. "On that, we fundamentally disagree. The people that are there, they can leave. Nobody is holding them."
"How is a three-month-old baby going to leave," replied someone from the crowd.
Hagedorn dated the country's troubles on the southern border to the 1980s, when President Reagan agreed to give amnesty to several million undocumented people in exchange for border security funding. But the latter never happened, he said.
"We never got border security, and over the last 40 years, it's been a problem," Hagedorn said.
"The good news is I support legal immigration," he added. "I'm 100 percent for people coming the here legally, doing it the right way. I do not support illegal immigration. I'm very clear about that."
Hagedorn also noted that he had voted for the $4.6 billion emergency funding bill for the southern border, but that many Democratic House lawmakers voted against the bill because it included money for the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency (ICE).
People should enter the country legally, he said. If they don't, "we have every right to send them back," he said.
Here are other areas Hagedorn discussed:
• Guns. Hagedorn was asked why there is more regulation for taking the SAT test than for purchasing and using a gun. A Second Amendment advocate, Hagedorn argued that there are enough gun laws on the books. If people misuse guns they should be prosecuted and sent to jail if convicted. But we don't need any more laws.
"We have a lot of laws on the books, and if we used them, we would't have as many problems," he said.
• Climate change. Hagedorn portrayed himself as a climate change skeptic, and even if climate change were true, "what do you want to do about?" he asked the crowd.
"I know many of you believe the science is settled. It's all done," he said. "AOC (Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) tells us we have 12 years, and if we don't do x, y, and z, we're through."
Hagedorn said the problem with relying on green sources of energy, such as solar and wind, is that they are intermittent. And the technology so far doesn't exist to store such power. He said he supported an "all-of-the-above" energy strategy at this point.
Republican and Trump administration policies have now made the U.S. the largest exporter of energy in the world, he added. The U.S. now exports more energy than Saudi Arabia. And that dominance translates into foreign policy benefits. Countries like Germany, Great Britain and Poland can turn to the U.S. for energy resources rather than Russia.
"(Russia) is a one-trick pony because of oil and gas," he said. "The biggest thing that's been hitting them hard is the fact that the United States is drilling for oil and gas and flooding the world market with energy. That has crippled their economy in many ways."
• Health care. Hagedorn was asked whether everyone should have health care coverage. The congressman said he would "never support" single-payer health care. He said it would be devastating to Olmsted County, home to Mayo Clinic, because government reimbursement to providers would be as little as 50 cents on the dollar. It would also place restrictions on the doctors people could see.
"Single-payer does not sustain the model of medical care that has worked here," Hagedorn said.
He added that Minnesota had a 90 percent coverage rate before Obamacare was enacted.
"We had a system with high-risk pools for people with pre-existing, expensive medical needs," he said. "And then it got all thrown apart."