In a bid to mollify constituents who have launched a grassroots campaign urging Congresswoman Barbara Comstock to hold a Town Hall, approximately 6,000 10th district residents received a phone call connecting them to their Representative and her staff last night for an hour of conversation about the recent actions in Congress. Comstock has recently received widespread attention and negative press for failing to show up at an open forum that she invited constituents to attend, as well as her conspicuous absence at Dulles airport at the height of demonstrations in response to the refugee ban and resulting detentions.
The eleven questions fielded by Comstock were pre-screened by staff and individual questioners were not allowed to respond with follow-up questions or requests for specifics. Seven of the questions were from residents seeking details about the GOP plans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Despite pointed questions aimed at revealing details of the plan she has claimed to have developed, Ms. Comstock consistently repeated herself in saying, “We have a system in place so we are going to replace and repair it. “ She was careful to point out that the Act would not be repealed, and not changed all at once, but in an “orderly, piece-meal fashion.”
When asked for specifics, Ms. Comstock limited her responses to generalizations with respect to the need for buying insurance across state lines, plan portability between jobs, protection for pre-existing conditions and subsidizing employer wellness incentive programs as ways to improve the functionality of the system. When asked how the GOP planned to pay for these changes, her answer was the same: improving the system would also make it cheaper. For more information, callers were encouraged to visit her website and those of the party leadership.
Several questions related to bills introduced in the House to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Education as well as concerns with the so-called Muslim ban. Ms. Comstock assured everyone that she didn’t support those bills and that they were unlikely to make it out of the Committees to which they were referred for consideration. She also restated her belief that no refugee bans should target entire religions, and that President Trump’s controversial Executive Order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries was “not properly vetted.” She expressed confidence that the courts would remediate this Order, which she deemed inappropriate, insofar as it pertains to permanent legal residents and green-card holders.
One caller expressed his concerns about the Trump administration’s characterization of the federal work force as a “corrupt bureaucracy,” and asked for an explanation of Comstock’s recent vote to approve the Holman Rule, which allows Congress to punitively slash individual employee salaries to $1 per year. Ms. Comstock responded that she voted for it but didn’t support it, and thank goodness it is “only temporary, for one year.”
It is unclear whether constituents will be satisfied by last night’s telephone “Town Hall” event. Despite the opportunity to hear the Congresswoman’s rationales in her own voice, many constituents have pointed out that a tightly-controlled, closed forum such as this one is diametrically opposed to the open forum with the ability to ask an unapproved question and also a follow-up question that seeks to penetrate the gloss of party-wide generalizations.
For example, no one was allowed to ask Ms. Comstock why she voted to repeal a rule that required the Social Security Administration to disclose information about people with mental illness to the national gun background check system, or what she planned to do about President Trump’s continued refusal to release his tax returns despite widespread calls that he do so, or why she voted to repeal the Stream Protection Rule.
Without an open-forum Town Hall, Ms. Comstock’s struggles to explain her actions will continue to be a real impediment to her constituents who are facing the challenges posed by the dark and disturbing confluence of the GOP-lead agenda of the 115th session and the Trump administration.
Listen to the broadcast here: