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SANTA CLARITA, Calif. – Even before getting elected in November, freshman Democratic Rep. Katie Hill was aware of how town hall-style events can become raucous.
Hill attended one such event in 2017 where boisterous protesters were heckling the House incumbent she would later defeat. However, the lawmaker was on the other side Saturday and faced a rowdy group of sign-carrying protesters who repeatedly disrupted her "Congressional Conversation" event in Santa Clarita, California.
The 31-year-old congresswoman represents California's 25th Congressional District located primarily in north Los Angeles County. She pleaded for civility and threatened to have unruly people removed.
Angry constituents shouted criticisms on various topics, from immigration and Democrat's opposing President Donald Trump's border wall to calling global warming a hoax. Some even blasted Hill, who is openly bisexual, for co-sponsoring the Equality Act, a bill she defended adding protections for LGBTQ people.
"What we really wanted to have was a discussion," Hill said afterward. "The most disappointing thing was that people who wanted to actually have input and have discussions weren't able to ask their question."
Hill was one of the seven Democrats in California who triumphed in November's midterms by flipping GOP-held House seats. Those same districts also voted in the 2016 election for Democrat Hillary Clinton rather than Trump.
Some of the protesters defended their actions by claiming they were only doing to Hill what her supporters did to Republican former Rep. Steve Knight during his town halls. "We're giving you a taste of your own medicine," one protester shouted. In 2017, Hill confronted Knight at a town hall with a question about health care, and some of her supporters booed the Republican.
"I never behaved like this at town halls, even when I was somebody running for office against the person who was having those town halls," Hill told reporters.
Kassie King, a spokesperson for Hill, claimed Monday the majority of those disrupting were outsiders. "We know that probably two to three of those individuals live in our district of the 12," King told CNBC. "It's one thing to answer to constituents. It's another thing to have professional disruptors show up at an event with the intent to derail so that you can't connect with your constituents."
Regardless, Hill heard from many people in the crowd who were supportive and told constituents about her first 100 days in Congress and priorities, including legislation designed to help end gun violence.
Hill was one of the co-sponsors of House Resolution 8, which passed the lower chamber in February and would expand background checks for gun purchases. The key sponsor, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., also spoke Saturday and faced jeers at times.
Hill, who is vice chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee, said the powerful panel has requested documents from pharmaceutical companies to show how they are setting drug prices and plans to make that information public.
Before winning the election, Hill ran one of the largest homeless services organizations in California. Hill spoke about the homeless issue at the town hall and noted she's co-chairwoman of the Housing Task Force for the New Democratic Coalition in Congress.
"We have a housing crisis here that is hitting everybody," said Hill, adding that affordability is impacting people in middle incomes, not just the poor. "One thing that has not helped with the issue of homelessness, with the question on the housing market, is the Republican tax plan that has made it so difficult for deductions."
Democrats have a slim 4 percentage-point advantage over the GOP in Hill's 25th District, according to the latest voter registration data. Republicans are already plotting their strategy to win back lost seats in California, but the GOP tax plan signed into law in 2017 by Trump could be an obstacle in 2020.
Similarly, Rep. Katie Porter — another new California Democrat sent to Congress in the "blue wave" — brought up the Republican tax overhaul during a town hall held earlier this month in her district in Orange County.
"What we've seen from the Trump tax cuts, the number of corporations that paid zero tax — zero tax — went up under the Trump tax plan," said Porter. "At the same time, the Trump tax plan hit Orange families, particularly Orange County homeowners, really, really hard."
A poll released last month by the Public Policy Institute of California showed 60% of Californians oppose the federal tax overhaul. The tax change resulted in some California taxpayers paying more this year to the federal government due to caps on deductions for state and local taxes.
Hill and Porter defeated incumbent Republicans who voted for the 2017 tax overhaul.
Now that the Democrats have control of the House, though, they are looking at tax changes that would revise the SALT deduction caps. Hill said the tax law changes hit Californians "disproportionately" hard, although it also impacted other high-tax states, too.
"We're looking at incremental fixes, certain things, for example, fixing the SALT tax deduction problem," Hill said. "We've seen a tendency on this administration and the Senate ... to kind of be vindictive toward states like California. So we'll see if that goes anywhere."