Residents in heavily GOP Utah County pepper Rep. Ben McAdams at town hall with questions on abortion, impeachment, border wall

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Congressman Ben McAdams met with his constituents in Utah County during his second town hall at Lehi City Council chambers, Feb. 19, 2019 to answer their questions and concerns.

Lehi • Residents in heavily Republican Utah County fired tough questions Tuesday at freshman Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams about abortion, the border wall, impeaching President Donald Trump — and even whether McAdams is a socialist.

He answered directly and with a smile to an orderly crowd of about 70 at the Lehi City Hall. The event comes after he campaigned by attacking former Rep. Mia Love for dodging such town halls amid fears of violence at them — and vowed to hold them regularly.

Tuesday’s town hall was his second since taking office last month — but his first in heavily Republican Utah County. His 4th District includes areas west of Interstate 15 in that GOP stronghold, as well as parts of Salt Lake, Juab and Sanpete counties.

Out of the blocks, John Hansen — who was customs officer for 25 years — asked what McAdams thought about Trump’s border wall, and added he learned that technology by itself is not the answer and “sometimes it takes a wall.”

“I don’t support open borders. I think we need border security,” McAdams said. But he added that it would be wise for everyone in the heated battle to take a step back and look at security goals — and not just positions about the wall.

“Goals can be unifying, and positions can be divisive,” he said. “The goal is protecting the border … and there is pretty good bipartisan support for border protection.”

He said, “Technology won’t solve it, but it’s part of the solution.” He added, “I don’t support a 2,000-mile barrier. I think that is wasteful … but also saying zero inches probably isn’t right either.”

Other residents asked what he thinks of a new law in New York and proposals in Virginia that seek to protect and expand abortion rights, but which residents at the town hall called promoting infanticide.

“I don’t support abortion. I think that we need to have some reasonable exceptions for rape, or incest or where the life of the mother is endangered. In those cases, it is a personal question,” he said.

“But I’m troubled at what we’ve seen in New York and Virginia, and we should never come to the point as a society where abortion [is] for convenience, or we are so callous to it that it is just a procedure that you get done. That is troubling to me,” he said.

In questioning about whether he supports efforts by some to impeach Trump, “I think there are some serious concerns that have been raised about the president. Those need to go through the proper process. If true, they are very troubling for our country.”

He said work by special investigator Robert “Mueller should continue unfettered, and the American people deserve to know what happened,” and he reserves judgment about impeachment until after the investigation concludes.

One resident contended that the Democratic Party is pushing socialism, communism, infanticide and anti-semitism, and asked McAdams “how long do you intend to ride that train with those people” in the party?

McAdams responded, “I did run as a Democrat. I also ran as someone who is not loyal to party.”

He added, “I’m loyal to my constituents…. Sometimes that puts me aligned with the Democratic Party, sometimes it puts me aligned with the Republican Party and sometimes I go against both parties. So no, I’m not loyal to any political parties. My loyalties are to the state of Utah.”

He added to be clear, “I am not a socialist,” and he believes in free markets — but with necessary regulation. “Failure to serve the American people can come from both parties. And good ideas can come from both parties.”

McAdams told the crowd that he considers listening at such town halls as critical to his job of representing them and his views. “My title is representative. I don’t think that is just a title. It’s a job description.”

Earlier on Tuesday, McAdams spent time listening and talking to both Republican and Democratic caucuses at the Utah Legislature — where he once served as a state senator before later becoming the Salt Lake County mayor and then congressman.

He told lawmakers that the nation’s deficit has been a bipartisan failure and that the debt is becoming a threat to national security.

McAdams also told them that he and his colleagues are dealing with fallout from President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration, an action that could unlock funding for a border wall.

“We’re of course concerned about the emergency declaration," McAdams said. "One of the first items we’ll take up when we’re back in session next week is a resolution ... of disapproval of that emergency declaration.”

McAdams also plans another town hall meeting on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. at the Nephi City Hall, 21 E. 100 North. Rep. John Curtis also is holding numerous town hall meetings throughout his district this week.

Reporters Ben Wood and Bethany Rodgers contributed to this report.