U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, walked a thin line at her first town hall meeting Saturday.
Her U.S. seat, once held by conservative firebrands including Newt Gingrich and Tom Price, is now in her Democratic hands, but that seat is hardly safe.
Her margin of victory over Republican Karen Handel in last year’s election was around one percent, or just over 3,000 votes. And late last month, Handel announced her intention to challenge McBath in 2020, if she can first win a Republican primary against state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, who announced in January.
McBath demonstrated at the public meeting at Pilgrimage United Church of Christ in east Cobb that she believes her path to victory involves appeasing her Democratic base while avoiding alienating conservatives in the traditionally red areas of east Cobb and north Fulton.
McBath made the case for bipartisanship as she was questioned both by supporters and self-described conservatives.
“I represent Republicans, I represent Democrats, I represent independents. I represent you all, and that is my goal, to listen and find solutions for everyone because that’s what your representative is supposed to do,” she said.
Though the questioners expressed differing viewpoints, the proceedings were civil, with the most heat being generated near the end of the meeting, when Christine Rozman of Marietta expressed her fears about immigration.
“We’re not taking care of ourselves, and we’re taking care of other countries, which Mexico should be stopping these other countries before they get to Mexico because the way immigration works, it is really the border that is right to us here, that Mexico is our border, but all these other people are coming through all these countries, I couldn’t even walk to Tucker like five times a week and not have help, how are all of these people coming up from all of these countries in central America all the way up here? I am scared for our country,” Rozman said.
Rozman went on to say she fears allowing immigrants into the country will result in socialism in the U.S. Her remarks led to groans and disapproving murmurs from some in the audience.
“I’m sorry if you guys listen to fake news all the time and you’re not educated,” Rozman said.
That sparked laughter from many in the crowd, and McBath called for order.
“This is an open forum for everyone in this district,” she said. “Please do not break down the good discourse that we’ve had up until this point.”
In response to another constituent who said he believes there needs to be a wall on the southern border, McBath did not specifically say she agrees or disagrees with a border wall, but instead called for a bipartisan discussion on immigration.
“I will tell you I do believe in secure borders. … But I also believe we need to have broader bipartisan discussions about comprehensive immigration reform,” she said. “I think when we’re talking about immigration and immigration reform, we’ve got to keep in mind that one, we’ve got to keep American citizens safe. That has to be foremost in our minds. We also need to make sure that with keeping Americans safe, the migrant families that are trying to come here for a better way, that we have to respect (their) dignity.”
McBath said she wants to end the practice of family separation and is opposed to abolishing Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, as some in the party’s left wing have called for.
On the topic of health care, McBath said she favors shoring up the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, rather than implementing a “Medicare for all” plan like the one supported by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Gun safety was McBath’s signature issue on the campaign trail — she was inspired to run after her son, Jordan Davis, was shot to death in what became known as the loud music case.
When guns came up in Saturday’s discussion, it was primarily in praise of McBath’s efforts.
“This woman is my hero in introducing (House Resolution) 8 and HR 1112, because those measures will keep guns out of the hands of people that are going to kill,” said one schoolteacher from John’s Creek.
McBath co-sponsored HR 8 and supported HR 1112, which, respectively, aim to expand background checks for all gun purchases and increase the number of days authorities have to finish a background check for someone trying to buy a gun. Both passed the House, but are unlikely to move forward in the Republican-controlled Senate.
McBath told the crowd she is “a supporter of the Second Amendment,” who wants to institute reforms that will protect gun owners and non-owners alike.
McBath was also questioned from the left. One young woman asked the freshman Rep. for her take on reparations.
“What I believe to be termed reparations is making sure you have affordable healthcare, making sure that you have the education you deserve,” she said.
McBath went on to say she considers things such as improving transportation infrastructure and raising teacher pay to be reparations.
“We know that communities of color most specifically have been denied, in some sense of the word, the ability to have access to those things,” she said. “So making sure that everyone has access to those things, that definitely improves communities of color. So for me that is what I consider reparations.”
Typically when people talk about reparations, they mean financial compensation for descendants of enslaved Africans.
When one McBath supporter said she would back impeaching President Donald Trump, McBath said that is not something she looks forward to or anticipates, but she did not rule it out, either.
“Impeachment is a very, very serious process, and it’s not to be taken lightly,” McBath said. “It really cannot be taken lightly. … We never want it to be our goal that we have to impeach the commander in chief, that’s just not our goal. We’re not running after the president, ‘Impeach! Impeach!’”
McBath went on to say she is willing to work with President Trump when his plans align with the interests of her constituents, but will stand up to him when they do not.
Speaking to the MDJ outside the church after the discussion, McBath said she hopes to bring the bipartisan spirit up to the capital.
“There are a lot of things people said to me that they want me to take back to Washington, making sure that we are working together, making sure that we’re listening to their needs,” she said. “And I’m going to make sure that I do that. I am pushing my own colleagues there in the House to work together. There was an instance where I had to ask my own colleagues ‘How many of you have even gone to the Republican Senate and challenged them to work together?’ So I’m challenging people, because that’s what we’re supposed to do.”