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Republican Rep. Mark Sanford Discusses His South Carolina Town Hall


We're going to talk now to a Republican congressman in South Carolina who held his own town hall yesterday. Mark Sanford, formerly Governor Sanford, represents the state's 1st Congressional District, and he joins us now on the line.

Congressman, thanks for being on our program.

MARK SANFORD: My pleasure.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So - so much emotion at these town halls, including yours, which lasted more than three hours - you were quoted as saying people were planning to use you as a human pinata before your town hall. Do you think that turned out to be the case?

SANFORD: No. I mean, I was making an offhanded remark to one of the journalists. It's oftentimes what some journalists are looking for in these things. And, you know, you looked at the tapes at some of these other town halls that became rather raucous, the Chaffetz video in particular. But, you know, it was spirited certainly. No - but I didn't walk out feeling like a human pinata.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are you or your colleagues getting any guidance from the administration, the Republican Party, about how to handle these town halls?

SANFORD: Yeah. There was a briefing within the Republican caucus on preparing for these more spirited - again, if you want to call them that - town hall meetings. I was not in attendance. And I think that a lot of things that they suggested were frankly counterproductive - the idea of, you know, make sure you have your exit in place, a certain amount of security and all those different kinds of things.

I've long believed that in many cases, a dissenting viewpoint is more important than one that agrees with you. You learn a lot more in contrasting an idea than having somebody simply say I'm with you. So I think the back and forth is important to the Socratic process of ultimately getting to the bottom line and hopefully truth at that bottom line.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do other lawmakers agree with you? Many Republican lawmakers have decided not to hold events. One said that people were there to create disruptions and media spectacles.

SANFORD: Well, in fairness, obviously that is the objective of some of these groups. But, you know, I can't speak for other members of Congress. Everybody's going to decide what they do based on the composition of their district. I think individual members know their districts and will decide what works for them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Did you feel that yours was productive yesterday? Did you - were you listening to what your constituents have to say and their specific concerns?

SANFORD: Positively. I mean, I thought it was a meaningful interchange. There's certainly some energy at the front end. But, you know, you go - I think we went about three and a half hours all told. And by time, you know, you move past hour one and some of the, you know, again, pent-up energy that was built into that, I think we really had a meaningful exchange where people, at a heartfelt level, told me why certain things were important to them, why they mattered as they did. And I think that that's what you'd want in any town hall exchange.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to talk about your view on the president. You were quoted in Politico as saying Trump has fanned the flames of intolerance, misled the public, that he is unprepared for the presidency. Do you think the president's rhetoric, speeches and tweets helps or hurts your relationship with constituents?

SANFORD: You know, I don't remember whether it was Einstein or Newton or who - I think it may have been Newton - but for every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction. Or maybe it's a law of physics. I'm not sure where it came from.

But I think that - yeah. At times, some of these inflammatory tweets and some of the bluster has something to do with the amount of energy that you see out there in reaction, too. And so yeah, I would say, you know, not that every item has to be in the most measured of terms. I mean, there is passion that goes with politics, and people feel strongly about ideas.

But I think, you know - I've even written an op-ed saying ditch the Twitter. At some level, a lot of complex ideas cannot be boiled down to 140 characters. And I think some of the more inflammatory ways in which some of these ideas have been conveyed is counterproductive.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And it's making your job, do you think, harder when you're speaking to your constituents?

SANFORD: Well, at the end of the day, it won't. I'm just saying it creates energy, and that energy has to dissipate somewhere. They're not going be able to get to the president, but they can get to a member of Congress or a member of the Senate.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We have about 30 seconds left. I do want to hear your views on how you think the president is doing in his first month in office.

SANFORD: I mean, I - I'd say, yeah - one level it's been an awfully rocky start and unconventional by any measure. You know, at another level - so that would be the view of the detractor. His proponents would say - wait a minute. He's doing many of the things he said he was going to do, that they like his Supreme Court appointment, that they like, you know - it's probably one of the most conservative Cabinets that you've seen in a long time.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sure. But your view, sir - your view.

SANFORD: My view? I'd give him credit on Supreme Court appointment. I'd give him credit on Cabinet appointments. I'd give him credit on some of the regulatory rollback.


SANFORD: But I'd give him a minus on some - most of the way in which he's been flamboyant in conveying some of the ideas.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mark Sanford, thank you very much.

SANFORD: My pleasure. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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