For 49 minutes on Saturday, Sen. Roger Marshall faced comments that former President Donald Trump “has been stolen from us,” vague worries about COVID-19 vaccines and questions about what he is doing to free those arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
“The question is what am I doing to get people out of jail from the Jan. 6. So what we did is we took a deep, deep dive,” Marshall said.
But the Kansas Republican also heard the fears of a worker in a long-term care facility about unvaccinated employees, pleas for universal health care and a request to lower the temperature in Washington.
An early-morning Wyandotte County town hall illustrated both the pressure Marshall faces from Kansans who have indulged conspiratorial thinking and Republicans in general, as well as the frustration of moderate and liberal-leaning voters who have gradually turned the Kansas side of the Kansas City metro increasingly Democratic but who are a minority in the state as a whole.
Marshall won Kansas last November by 11.4 percentage points, but lost Wyandotte County by a more than 2-to-1 margin. The town hall, held in Bonner Springs, reflected a more rural and conservative mix of residents, however.
The event didn’t appear to be advertised on Marshall’s website, but images of text message invitations began circulating online on Thursday. The town hall was one of two held by the senator on Saturday — the other was in Olathe.
Early in the event, one person asked Marshall what he is doing to get “political prisoners” from the Jan. 6 riot out of jail. The question came ahead of a protest Saturday in Washington against the arrest of the rioters. Hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol that day as Congress was certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral victory. Some looked for Vice President Mike Pence while a gallows was erected outside.
Marshall, speaking to a crowd of about 50, indicated he had investigated the cases of Kansans who were arrested. He said of the half a dozen residents arrested, most were quickly released. One person remains in custody, Marshall said, adding that authorities say he’s a danger to himself.
“I think that maybe it’s been exaggerated a little bit in the media, I know it’s hard to guess that, but certainly, we’ve taken a good look at all the Kansans,” Marshall said.
Seven Kansas residents have been arrested in connection with the insurrection, including three Proud Boys from Johnson County. One Proud Boy, William Chrestman of Olathe, remains in custody after multiple requests to be released pending trial. Federal prosecutors said Chrestman was a danger to the community, and the federal judge who ordered him to remain incarcerated said that he “was much more — much, much more — than someone who merely cheered on the violence or who entered the Capitol after others cleared the way.”
Marshall was one of eight senators who voted against certifying Biden’s electoral victory following the riot, a group that also included Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley. On Saturday, he called Jan. 6 a “horrible day” but made no distinction between the storming of the Capitol — an attack on democratic institutions — and other forms of lawlessness.
“I’m against all riots, all vandalism, not just the riot of Jan. 6. I’m against all the riots across the country and the increase in crime as well,” Marshall said.
Marshall on COVID-19
On COVID-19, Marshall listened as a questioner wondered “who knows” what could happen to those who have been vaccinated in the next few years. “God help us,” the person said.
The vaccines provide overwhelming protection against hospitalization and death, even against the highly contagious delta variant. More than 181 million people in the United States are fully vaccinated with only extremely limited instances of severe reactions reported.
Biden has announced a series of policies aimed at boosting vaccinations among workers. The federal government plans to require most businesses with more than 100 employees to ensure their workforces are either vaccinated or require regular testing. Biden also plans to mandate vaccination for nursing home workers and health care workers who work for providers that participate in Medicare and Medicaid.
Marshall polled the room on vaccine mandates. Most were opposed, but about half a dozen raised their hands in support.
“I really think we’ve been as loud as anybody pushing against vaccine mandates,” Marshall said. “At the same time, I’m in favor of people getting the vaccine.”
One woman, who said she works in longterm care, said all employees in her building are vaccinated and 98% of residents are vaccinated. But many hospice workers and some home health aides are not.
“Our firewall is being penetrated by people that are not vaccinated,” said the woman, who didn’t identify herself and left soon after speaking.
The Catch-22, Marshall said, is that vaccine mandates for nursing homes and hospitals will lead to unvaccinated workers quitting. He urged the CDC and White House to recognize “natural immunity,” the concept that previous infection from the virus provides protection against future infection.
Few dispute that previous infection offers at least some level of protection, but health leaders have urged even those who have already had COVID-19 to get vaccinated to ensure the body has the best possible chance against the virus.
Health care and divisive politics
Angelica Wilcox, a Wyandotte County resident, called on Marshall to support universal health care and pro-union policies.
“I think people don’t realize that everyone who is not a capitalist, not a millionaire, has more in common with each other than we do with Jeff Bezos, the Warren Buffet, the Bill Gates of the world who are heavily influencing Congress and our elected leaders,” Wilcox said.
Marshall told Wilcox we “absolutely agree on the same goals” and said the best thing he can provide for those with economic challenges is a good education and a good job. He praised tax cuts passed when he was in the House.
Doug Young, a Basehor resident, said Americans were tired of divisive politics.
“Everything is divided in Washington, D.C., if somebody in one party was to come up with the idea that would save this world, the other party would oppose it just on the principle they didn’t bring the idea up,” Young said.
A few minutes later, someone asked Marshall what Biden had done well. The senator mentioned a bill the president signed to drive down the cost of prescription drugs.
“I’m struggling,” Marshall said.