Rep. Jeff Fortenberry was confronted Thursday at a town hall meeting in Lincoln about President Donald Trump's sometimes divisive and abusive rhetoric and policies and the Republican congressman's unwillingness to condemn or distance himself from any of it.

Fortenberry declined to engage questions on those terms, focusing instead on his views about topics that were raised.

That's the only way to have "a reasonable discussion," the 1st District congressman told a noon-hour audience of more than 400 people at Lincoln North Star High School.

Fortenberry centered on his legislative priorities, which included flood recovery, development of rural broadband service and efforts to lower prescription drug costs.

When the time came for questions, more than 50 people formed two lines and here are some of the first comments and questions the congressman encountered:

* "We need you to stand up to the president."

* "Why do you remain silent? At what point does your silence become complicity?"

* "What happened to your decency?"

* "What are you afraid of?"

At one point, Fortenberry said: "Racism is wrong. White nationalism is wrong."

Following the event, the congressman described the give-and-take as "the reality of democracy," which he fully embraces.

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"It is my duty to listen to people," he said, "but we need to have space to be generous to one another."

"The reality is that a lot of people like his (Trump's) policies, but wish he would say things differently," Fortenberry said.

When the congressman ended the event after an hour in order to head to Fremont for a midafternoon town hall, there still were two dozen people standing in line to ask questions. But Fortenberry stayed behind to answer individual questions for another 20 minutes or so.

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Expanding on his brief report a day earlier about his trip to view immigration enforcement activities at the Mexican border in El Paso, Texas, Fortenberry said he saw detention areas where people were housed.

"They were not concentration camps," he said.

Asked if they were overcrowded, the congressman said: "No, not now."

Town hall participants questioned Fortenberry about a range of topics, including environmental policy, concerns about protection of the nation's electoral process from Russian interference, trade policy, transportation concerns, health care and climate change.

"The day of reckoning with China and some other trade partners is here," Fortenberry said.

At least six police officers were on hand inside the school to provide security and four stood near Fortenberry as he answered questions and shook hands with people after the event.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.


Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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