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Two Janesvillians present for CNN's 'town hall' with Rep. Paul Ryan

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Frank Schultz
Tuesday, August 22, 2017

RACINE -- Kara Hawes and Sam Liebert of Janesville were among those who got invited to CNN's “town hall” meeting with Rep. Paul Ryan on Monday night in Racine.

Both said Ryan seemed well prepared to answer the questions--so well that they suspected he saw the questions in advance.

CNN issued a statement Tuesday, saying CNN did not give Ryan access to questions or preparation materials in advance of the event.

Neither is a Ryan supporter, but they did give him credit for a good performance, and Liebert said CNN did a good job of picking a diverse crowd. He said the audience seemed equally divided among Republicans, Democrats and independents.

Neither Hawes nor Liebert got to ask questions. It seemed those easiest to reach with a microphone were the ones who spoke, they said.

Hawes said the crowd seemed to get most excited about the House of Representatives actions on health care: “I definitely think that was one of the things that kept coming up and people felt very passionately about, for sure.”

Liebert said he hoped Ryan could use his position to reach across the aisle to get things done, “instead of ramming through far-right legislation, and work with Democrats to fix the Affordable Care Act, rather than ripping it to shreds.”

Hawes agreed, saying it's important for the two major parties to come together, especially to condemn the racism expressed at the University of Virginia demonstrations.

“That could be a starting point to come together and work together rather than follow the party line,” she added.

Ryan has condemned white supremacists and neo-Nazis, but when asked Monday about condemning President Donald Trump's “both sides are to blame” comments, Ryan avoided taking a firm stance, in Liebert's opinion.

When CNN's Jake Tapper followed up with a question about Trump saying some “fine people” were among the racist protesters, Ryan's response seemed like a cop-out, Liebert said.

“It felt very scripted,” Liebert said of Ryan's performance. “Paul is a very polished politician. ... It almost felt like an hour-long infomercial for Paul Ryan for president. He's a good salesman. He is a very good messenger for his cause.”

“It was very much on par with what I expected from Paul,” Hawes said, adding that she noticed no spontaneity.

Liebert noted that former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold's sister Dena Feingold, a rabbi in Kenosha, was one chosen to speak. She said her synagogue had to hire private security and work with police to respond to threats and that members were afraid to come to pray because of racist activity, Liebert said.

“Paul could have come out stronger,” Liebert continued. “I hope he heard the concerns of his constituents, because people are really scared, people are really hurting, because he is in a position to do a lot of good, not only for his district but for the whole country.”

Liebert said he also hopes Ryan will hold the kind of town hall he used to hold, where anyone could attend and question him, and where answers are less scripted.

Liebert said he hopes Ryan holds that a town hall in his hometown, Janesville.

This story was updated at 4:20 p.m. Aug. 22, 2017, to reflect this statement from CNN: "CNN never gave Speaker Paul Ryan access to any questions or prep material in advance of the town hall."



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