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Heinrich discusses range of issues at town hall

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., took on issues ranging from health care and immigration to foreign policy in response to questions from about 250 New Mexicans who turned out at his town hall meeting Wednesday evening in Southwest Albuquerque.

Heinrich said that he is confident that Russians interfered in the U.S. elections last year and that he favors an independent investigation into the claims. In particular, Russians used expert manipulation of social media to influence voting, as they have for years in eastern Europe, he said during the event at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School.

“We weren’t ready for this,” Heinrich said of the Russians’ targeted use of social media. “They did, and there was meddling in our elections.”

In response to a question from a student leader about financial aid for college, Heinrich said he favors a measure that would allow students to renegotiate student loan debt.

He also criticized as “outrageous” Gov. Susana Martinez’s veto of state higher education funding, saying it has caused confusion and uncertainty for colleges and universities planning their budgets for the coming year.

Several people expressed concerns about health care, the high price of prescription drugs, and the future of Medicare and the Affordable Care Act. Heinrich said he opposed the Republican plan to repeal and replace the ACA and said he favors expanding Medicare if it doesn’t weaken the program’s focus on care of the elderly.

“I believe that in the richest nation in the world, everybody should be able to get health care,” he said. Heinrich also said the federal government should be able to negotiate drug prices through Medicare Part D — a strategy that the VA system has used to hold down drug costs.

He criticized President Donald Trump’s administration for an immigration enforcement policy that he said goes beyond targeting violent offenders and drug offenders. Heinrich also said the current discussion about immigration has little in common with the realities of people he has met on New Mexico’s southern border.

“We need to tell a story about the real communities on the border,” including the coalitions of business, faith and community leaders, to fix problems caused by a broken immigration system, he said. “We need to focus on the real issues on the border.”

Heinrich criticized Trump’s “trial-by-error foreign policy,” which he said endangers the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers stationed in South Korea, although he favors Trump’s efforts to work with the Chinese to bring about change in North Korea.

Heinrich also said the that “dark money” is financing a movement to privatize federal lands and called on the public to speak out against privatization efforts.

“The threat is real,” he said. “The more we talk about it, the more we can be certain this won’t happen. I think that most New Mexicans can agree that we should keep public lands in public hands.”