BEAUFORT — When U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford scanned a full auditorium for another question at his town hall meeting Friday, a group from the newly formed Young Democrats chapter whispered “raise your hand” to each other.
Sanford pointed to Andrew Awe. The high school student sprung from his seat and read a question from his phone.
“Congressman Sanford, does it not raise a red flag when the administration cuts a department dedicated to diplomacy and further inflates our military budget?” he said. “Does this not suggest that this administration is creating conflict rather than seeking cooperation?”
“That’s a great question,” Sanford responded.
It was one of many sharp queries the S.C. Republican fielded during his two-hour town hall in an event so overcrowded that he — once again, like he did in Mount Pleasant last month — had to split his time between one room and another full of overflow attendees.
People lobbed questions about Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Russian hacking, immigration, abortion and the replacement of the Affordable Care Act. The town hall became heated at times, especially on the topic of abortion. But the mostly liberal crowd left seeming pleased the 1st District representative gave time to his constituents.
The abortion issue became inescapable. There were several people in the crowd with "I stand with Planned Parenthood" signs. Despite his best efforts to drive the conversation away from the topic, constituents would not cut Sanford loose. His statements about defunding Planned Parenthood were met with ire.
Ralph Fabiano's question about President Donald Trump's border wall was one of just a few that seemed to come from the right side of politics. Fabiano, a Beaufort resident, said he has often come to town halls but that since the election they have been flooded with left-leaning constituents. He described the left as occasional hypocrites and said he thought they should give Trump a chance.
"They're very unfair," Fabiano said. "Give the man time."
On many points, the crowd responded positively to Sanford’s statements. His answer to Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from an investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election won murmurs of approval.
“That Russia was trying to have an influence should be of no surprise to anyone," Sanford said. "The issue that we have to get to the bottom of is was there collusion? Because if there was collusion we have in essence a constitutional crisis on our hands."
Sanford said he did not support then-President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive order, which gives relief to young undocumented immigrants. But he said he’s open to the concept of protecting young people.
Alexis King said this was not a typical election in her view. Normally, she said, it doesn't matter much to her if a Republican or a Democrat is in power. But this time is different. Since Trump was elected president, she has become more involved in politics. She has been coordinating media outreach for the anti-Trump Low Country Indivisible, a presence at the town hall.
King joked Trump is ruining her social life.
"If John McCain had become our president, I'd be looking at Bonnaroo right now," King said of the music festival. "I would not be sitting here."