Over a dozen protesters, many grasping hand-made signs, stood on the steps of City Hall, while just as many Roe supporters huddled inside the City Commission chambers to hear the congressman speak.
While Roe largely avoided the immigration topic during his 10-minute stump speech, after its conclusion, a tense exchange ensued as a protester, who slipped inside, asked what the congressman planned to do about the 2,000 children that have reportedly been separated from their parents at the border, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
“If you give me a moment, we will be meeting with the president tomorrow. I will be meeting with the president of the United States tomorrow at 5:30 p.m.,” Roe said.
As aides began hurriedly pushing the congressman towards the door, the protester asked, “What is your stance?”
“I think what we have to do ... it’s a long, detailed discussion. We’re going to meet with the president and you should see something from my office really soon,” Roe said.
“Well, I want to know what your thoughts are right now, with children being put in cages. Children being separated by their families,” the woman demonstrator responded as Roe quietly made his exit and one of his supporters began singing “God Bless America.”
In the Johnson City police chief’s office, Roe provided a more detailed response to local media, saying the “optics of it are not good,” but he ultimately invoked Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ stance that the separation of child from parent at the border is part of “enforcing the law.”
“(The previous two administrations) did not enforce the law. The way it is now, if you get arrested here in this country, we have to find someplace to put your child,” Roe said.
“I mean we're not treating a person who comes into the country illegally any different than if you are someone that the Johnson City police or the Washington County Sheriff's Office arrests and takes down to the jail and interns them. They’re separated from their families then.
“So, I think that's the message that we're getting is ‘We want to get a solution.’ Basically, a bipartisan solution. It needs to be, but we're going to pass immigration reform (in the House). I feel fairly confident. I think this week.”
In his stump speech, Roe touted a few of his accomplishments, including recently-passed tax reform and particularly the VA Mission Act of 2018.
Roe began his speech by mentioning an older piece of legislation he worked on, signed by former President Barack Obama, that put EpiPens in schools.
“A young student’s life, in Kingsport the other day, was saved because of that piece of legislation. That made a difference,” Roe said.
Even though Roe promised in 2008 that he would serve no more than five terms, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs said he had several factors motivating his return to Washington, including implementing the VA Missions Act that streamlines veterans’ access to non-VA care and expands the VA caregiver program.
“I'm still very passionate about health care. Sen. Bill Cassidy is one of my best friends up there. He and I served in the House together. He has helped write the Graham-Cassidy bill to help overhaul the (Affordable Care Act),” Roe said.
“I want to be very-much a part of that, since I co-chair the (GOP) Doctors Caucus. So that's another thing that I'm very, very passionate about.”
In the Aug. 2 primary election, Roe will be challenged for the Republican nomination by fellow military veterans Todd McKinley and Mickie Lou Banyas.
East Tennessee State University physician Marty Olsen is running as the only Democrat for Roe’s seat.