BROKEN ARROW — U.S. Sen. James Lankford likes to describe his constituent meetings as community conversations.
For some of Lankford’s colleagues, these meetings have been more like community arguments.
But Lankford was able to maintain a steady tone through a meeting Tuesday afternoon with about 50 people in Claremore and a succession of five groups of similar size Tuesday evening in a downtown Broken Arrow restaurant.
The unusual format, which Lankford says allows him to interact with more people and answer more questions, also might have contributed to fairly low-key discussions.
While some questions were very direct, no one directly confronted Lankford. He worked his way through each group by pulling names from a red bucket.
A few of the dissenting red cards seen at other Congress members’ town halls elsewhere popped up, but not many.
“I’m trying to bring the volume down,” Lankford said in response to a question about the anger in American politics.
“We’re in this weird cycle of tit for tat, and it just gets louder and louder.”
On another occasion, he blamed social media for some of that and said, “I’m very aware our president is not a good example of how to do social media.”
In Claremore, Lankford surprised a questioner by saying he believes that President Donald Trump should release his income tax returns.
“He promised he would,” Lankford said. “He should keep his promise.”
Health care and health insurance did not dominate the questions but were the largest share, and they tended to get the longest answers.
Most dealt with GOP efforts to replace the Affordable Care Act, but they also covered pharmaceutical costs, family planning, mental health and women’s health.
“What President Obama put out in 2008, 2009, 2010 was a good idea in general concept,” Lankford said.
But “in implementation, it didn’t work.”
Lankford said a health-care reform bill that provides fewer benefits for the people who need them most will not make it through the Republican-led Senate.
“The bill the House put out originally would have included twice as many people with half as much help,” Lankford told one group in Broken Arrow. “That would not get through the Senate.”
Lankford said any health-care reform measure will have to include guarantee issue (meaning health insurance coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions), children remaining on their parents’ insurance until age 26, and a ban on lifetime caps.
Lankford said he expects a health-care reform bill to reach Trump by the end of June.
In just about every session, Lankford took questions about women’s health, abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood.
In each case, Lankford said he favors transferring federal dollars now going to Planned Parenthood to federally qualified health clinics.