The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘I was out of my mind with anger,’ man says after berating congressman at raucous town hall

A town hall meeting with U.S. North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer gets physical during a discussion on health care. (Video: Reuters)

For the record, Mike Quinn would like to apologize for “putting hands” on a U.S. congressman.

“I was out of my mind with anger for a few moments there,” the retired 68-year-old from Hazen, N.D.., told The Washington Post.

Quinn tried to stuff a wad of cash into the blue blazer of Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) on Thursday afternoon in what quickly became the most climactic moment of a fiery town hall meeting at the Mandan Eagles Club in Mandan, N.D.

The genesis of the cash-stuffing — as well as the mind-altering anger — was an ongoing debate over the Affordable Care Act, a dispute that continues to turn formerly boring town halls into raucous clashes between power brokers and ordinary people terrified of losing their health care.

Republicans misstate, again and again on TV and at town halls, what’s in their health-care bill

Quinn — a former safety director of a coal mine who voted for Hillary Clinton — said Thursday’s town hall of about 80 people was no different as attendees questioned Cramer about his vote to repeal the ACA, which passed the House 217 to 213 last week.

He said he never intended to get physical with his elected representative, but he lost his composure after a young mother in tears pleaded with the congressman to leave the ACA in place so that her baby with birth defects could survive without her family facing bankruptcy.

“She was crying so badly that she could barely talk,” Quinn said. “Cramer gave her some kind of wishy-washy answer.”

As the tension in the room heated up, Quinn decided he’d had enough and began to address the congressman as cameras rolled.

“I said, ‘You’re going to give 800 million in tax breaks to the rich and destroy Obamacare and this poor woman is going to do without,’ ” he said. “As the conversation evolved, somebody yelled, ‘I’ll pay higher taxes to help this woman!’ And I said I would, too.”

“I took all my money out and handed it to him and said, ‘Here — I’ll be taxed for health care!’ ” Quinn said.

At some point, in the swirl of angry exchanges between constituent and representative, Quinn approached Cramer and attempted to aggressively shove money into his jacket before turning and walking away. It was theatrical and mildly frightening, but Cramer maintained his composure throughout.

“Okay, buddy, that’s too far,” Cramer told Quinn.

Nobody, including a man who grabbed Quinn by the throat as he approached the congressman, was arrested.

Quinn was escorted outside by police, whom he described as gentlemen and thanked for their patience.

Cramer released a statement thanking his constituents for their attendance and acknowledging, in a decidedly underwhelming Midwestern way, that it was “a lively day” — “no question about it.”

“I don’t mind confrontation,” Cramer told reporters, according to the Bismarck Tribune. “My concern was he was dominating, and no one else could participate.”

Both men could’ve gone their separate ways as video of their last exchange spread over social media.

But on Friday afternoon, they agreed to appear on a popular conservative AM radio program in Fargo, N.D., on ABC affiliate WDAY, hosted by Rob Port.

Mike Hazen apologizes to Rep. Kevin Cramer May 12 for shoving money down his shirt at a town hall meeting the day prior. (Video: Rob Porter/WDAY)

After introductions, Quinn praised Cramer for being “courageous” and “open” enough to be accessible to his constituents and remaining cordial during heated disagreements.

“If only Cramer was a Democrat,” Quinn joked. “I would like to apologize to him when I tried to put money in his pocket, it was inappropriate and I shouldn’t have done it.”

“I hope he realizes North Dakotans are harmless and he’ll continue to hold his meetings the way he does,” he added.

Cramer told Quinn that he appreciated his apology and he accepted it.

“I don’t offend easily,” the congressman said. “There’s nothing wrong with passion. If you don’t have it, you probably ought to get a check-up because a lot of this stuff matters.”

“I never felt threatened by Mike,” he added. “I just know him as a North Dakotan with a lot of passion and once in a while that passion gets the best of us and I’ve been guilty of that myself.”

With the apology out of the way, the passion emerged once more and the two men spent the next 10 minutes strongly disagreeing over health-care policy — this time at a slightly lower decibel.


Nation needs due process for feds that Comey didn’t get

The Daily 202: Trump’s warning to Comey deepens doubts about his respect for the rule of law

Senate GOP’s agenda is at a moment of reckoning with unpredictable Trump