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Bernie Sanders cries foul over canceled town hall meeting in West Virginia

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), seen here in a file photo, said he will seek to hold a town hall in West Virginia even after the original venue canceled the event. (Craig Ruttle/AP)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is raising questions about the surprise cancellation of a town hall meeting in West Virginia, which was scheduled for Monday morning and was to be filmed for an MSNBC special. In a statement, Sanders said that a National Guard armory that had been booked for the town hall had canceled without explanation, and that the network was unable to find a new venue on short notice.

“If anyone in West Virginia government thinks that I will be intimidated from going to McDowell County, West Virginia, to hold a town meeting, they are dead wrong,” Sanders said in a statement. “If they don’t allow us to use the local armory, we’ll find another building. If we can’t find another building, we’ll hold the meeting out in the streets. That town meeting will be held. Poverty in America will be discussed. Solutions will be found.”

The town hall meeting was set to be held in McDowell County, the poorest part of West Virginia, with the highest rate of drug overdose in the state and the lowest life expectancy of any county in the United States — 64 years. In November, Donald Trump won 74.1 percent of the vote in the county, but in the Democratic primary six months earlier, Sanders won 55.2 percent of the vote.

On Friday night, as first reported by the Charleston Gazette-Mail, MSNBC and Sanders learned that the armory would not be available for the town hall, which was to be moderated by host Chris Hayes. While the state National Guard and new Gov. Jim Justice (D-W.Va.) have not talked about the cancellation, people with knowledge of the event say it had been planned for weeks, and they were told belatedly that the venue could not host a political event.

Sanders said that “hundreds” of locals had signed up to attend the town hall.

“I want people to see, firsthand, how poverty leads to terrible despair and that, in reality, how it is a death sentence for many,” he said. “In McDowell County, one of the poorest areas in one of our poorest states, people are now living shorter lives than their parents. Unemployment is sky high, drug addiction is at an epidemic rate, and the schools lack adequate funding. It is high time that we, as a nation, heard from the people who are impacted by this crisis and determined the best ways forward.”

Sanders was to be in the state Sunday and Monday, and MSNBC said it would look for another time to film an event with Sanders. It scored a ratings hit in January with a Sanders town hall in Kenosha, Wis., a county that had voted Democratic for decades but flipped to Donald Trump last year.

“I’m disappointed, but I hope we can make it work in the future,” said Hayes.

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