- Associated Press - Thursday, February 23, 2017

COVINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Two demonstrators interrupted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s speech before a suit-and-tie crowd Thursday, underscoring protesters’ frustrations after three days of limited public appearances that required a ticket to attend.

“We are protesting the fact that to get in front of you we have to pay dollars,” said one unidentified woman before being escorted from the local chamber of commerce luncheon. “Why don’t you have town halls to hear from your constituents? We want to talk to you.”

A few people in the audience shouted “get out,” but McConnell waited silently for authorities to lead both protesters off, with one protester saying “I paid to be here” before he was removed. McConnell quipped, “I see we’re having multiple speakers today,” before continuing his speech.

As the Senate’s top Republican, McConnell has been a favorite target for protesters during President Donald Trump’s first month in office.

Protesters have often gathered outside his Louisville home and even waited for him at the airport during his return flights from Washington. The protests intensified this week, with Congress recessing for Presidents’ Day and McConnell making his first public appearances in Kentucky since Trump took office.

More than 1,000 people protested his first event Tuesday in Lawrenceburg, and hundreds more gathered outside the Hotel Covington on Thursday.

McConnell, who was greeted warmly by the rest of the audience inside the hotel, told reporters he is listening to the protesters, but noted the “we just had an election in November and the American people decided not to take their advice.” He dismissed the protests as organized by Democrats, seeming to agree with Trump’s comments on Twitter that these protests were “planned by liberal activists.”

“You all are surely not falling for the notion these are unbiased citizens,” McConnell said. “The Kentucky Democratic Party, what’s left of it, is actively promoting this. That doesn’t mean it is not legitimate.”

Susan Bridges, 61, from Wilder, Kentucky, stood outside the hotel with a sign that read “unpaid protester, full time Kentucky resident.” She said she was not invited by anyone in the Democratic party, but “went totally on my own.” She said she was upset about Republicans’ goal of repealing and replacing the federal Affordable Care Act

“I went to protest because I’m upset by what’s happening in the country,” she said. “I live in Kentucky full time; Mitch McConnell does not. I don’t feel like he really represents the Kentucky people.”

Several protesters held signs urging Congress to keep the health care law.

McConnell used his speech to reiterate Republican plans to repeal and replace the law, saying it would happen “this year.” He said details of the Republican plan would be available in the spring.

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