Sen. Michael Bennet vowed to fight federal cuts to health care and clean air and water protections during a packed town hall meeting at the DoubleTree Hotel on Friday morning.
He also called for laws that would that would keep immigrant families together and support the study of climate change.
Bennet also held meetings in Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Alamosa and Grand Junction as part of a two-day tour of the state.
The Durango crowd seemed to support his pledge to fight President Donald Trump’s positions on many issues, and several people who asked questions identified themselves as members of Indivisible Durango, a progressive group formed after the election.
Rural Colorado is facing a health care crisis because of the high cost and lack of competition, Bennet said. Some Coloradans had to buy insurance that they could not afford to use because of the Affordable Care Act and that needed to be corrected, he said.
However, the American Health Care Act proposed by House Republicans does not solve the problems, but instead shifts the cost of Medicaid to the states and leaves millions of people without insurance, he said.
“There is no way this thing is going to get through the United States Senate,” he said.
He also criticized Trump’s proposed budget cuts because they would hit federal agencies that serve Western states, such as the U.S. Forest Service.
The proposal includes cutting the Department of Agriculture’s budget by 21 percent and the Department of the Interior’s budget by 12 percent.
In an interview, he called the proposals a “complete nonstarter,” in part because the cuts would fall heavily on rural America.
Several members of the crowd praised his position and called on him to fight for the protection of public lands.
“I think that public lands are the foundation of the West,” Jason Meininger said.
Bennet voiced concern that the new director of the EPA does not believe in climate change and said this conflicts with the beliefs of most Coloradans, including Republicans.
Under Trump’s budget proposal, the EPA budget would be cut by 31 percent, 3,200 people would be laid off and climate change research would be eliminated.
“I will fight that every step of the way,” he said.
Danny Quinlan, executive director of Compañeros in Durango, said that some immigrants are living in a time of extreme fear and asked Bennet what can be done to expand legal status of those working in the U.S. in addition to the Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy Act.
The BRIDGE Act would protect from deportation immigrants who came to America illegally as children and allow them to work legally.
“If you are protecting the DREAMers, but sending their parents away that’s pretty cold comfort,” Bennet said.
The term DREAMer comes from the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for those who came to the U.S. before they were 15 years old, but it never passed.
In his one meeting with Trump, Bennet said he encouraged the president to consider a bipartisan bill drafted in 2013 that would have created a path to citizenship, increased border security and addressed the need for farm labor.
Audience member Lynne Bruzzese said she appreciated that Republicans and Democrats had worked on an immigration bill that had the potential to be meaningful, and she was disappointed that it was not pursued.
She was also concerned about the possible cuts to the budget, that would affect the land and water in the West.
“That budget just left me speechless,” she said.
Audience member Jodell Johnson said she appreciated Bennet’s message, but blocking the president’s changes will be tough because Republicans hold the majority in the House and Senate.
“It’s going to be hard because of being a minority,” she said.