Comstock doubles down on refusal to hold in-person Town Hall.
Northern Virginia| Constituents who participated in Congresswoman Barbara Comstock’s second tele-Town Hall last night went to bed feeling nonplussed by her repetitive answers, meandering asides, and outright mockery of citizen-led efforts to urge her to hold a real Town Hall. Read the Transcript.
Of the 15 callers allowed to ask questions, more than half asked about Comstock’s plan for changing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In response, Comstock trotted out her trusty old buzzwords upon which she usually relies: “Diabetes” (We will save billions of dollars in healthcare when we cure it!); “Community health centers” (You can cut your costs by getting treated at the drug-store instead of by your doctor, did you know?), and “Technology” (Technology will cure diseases!).
Though the listeners’ voices were muted, it was not difficult to imagine the collective groan of frustration that issued, every time an ACA question was asked and Ms. Comstock took them for another dizzying spin on a merry-go-round of despair and non-answers. A search through the call’s transcript yielded no new information on Comstock’s ACA plan – other than that an upcoming GOP bill will be “brought up in March,” and “will include Health Savings Accounts” (HSAs).
Other topics raised by callers included transportation, cybersecurity, the federal deficit and the Congressional dismantling of agency Regulations enacted by the previous administration. With respect to the recent disapproval of Rules, one caller asked, “It seems strange you’ve been voting with your party, when it doesn’t seem representative of our district.” Ms. Comstock replied, “On the regulation front – I don’t think there are party lines. There were a lot of regulations put in place by agencies without a lot of review. Let’s have Congress decide where to put Rules into place – and get comments.”
She then inexplicably began reminiscing about a case from four years ago, where Fairfax County’s Democrat-led Board of Supervisors (BOS) partnered with Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to successfully sue the EPA in order to stop a costly storm water regulation. At the time, the Washington Post reported:
Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said it was difficult for her majority-Democrat board to sign onto a lawsuit against the EPA with arch-conservative Cuccinelli. “I know a lot people were scratching their heads over that,” Bulova said Thursday. She said she supported the suit because, on top of potentially devastating economic consequences, she believes that the EPA’s rule would have done nothing to help the environment. She said the county is already taking steps that will do far more.
Had this been an in-person Town Hall, the constituent could have pointed out Ms. Comstock’s false equivalence in this argument: this specific case was argued by local government in a judicial setting, which is arguably more appropriate than having a national Congress sit in their chamber and vote to wipe out regulations that affect jurisdictions, ranging from Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuge, all the way to Fairfax County’s Accotink creek watershed. (For more coverage of Comstock’s recent actions to repeal agency regulations, Click here).
Several callers prefaced their questions with a request that Ms. Comstock hold an in-person Town Hall, including one individual, who said, “This is the second tele town hall I’ve participated in. I find the forum frustrating, because people can’t follow up, and you answer by talking in circles.” For the bulk of the call, Ms. Comstock continued to reiterate the “hundreds” of meetings she’s had with small groups and individuals to address issues, provide services to constituents, and gather information that helps her decide how to vote: “I listen to my constituents and my staff go out and speak to stakeholders when I’m deciding how to vote. We go to churches, the Korean Medical Society, our Indian groups, Muslim, … African American groups, historical groups. We have an area that is enriched by diversity.”
When callers persisted in asking for an in-person Town Hall, however, Ms. Comstock got downright testy. In an exchange at the end of the call, a constituent remarked, “Please hold an in-person Town Hall. Your constituents are asking for it. People are reasonable and not looking to attack you. They want an open, back and forth dialogue.” Ms. Comstock replied that she can’t help her constituents with their personal problems in a Town Hall setting. The caller’s rejoinder at the end of the call: “I guess you’re not planning to hold an in-person Town Hall?” was met by:
“Well, the one that’s being held on Friday night, by, it is being held by a group called Indivisible, which is around the country. I think they invited a fellow from Maryland to come down and do it [laughs] but I think we have a lot of people in Virginia that I can work with and talk to, whether it’s hospitals or community health centers, or different places we’ve talked with. I think you’ll probably say if, you sit down and visit with some of the community center folks that we can put you in touch with, it would probably be more helpful than talking with a food critic from Maryland who’s going to be leading up the Town Hall on Friday night.”
In an open reply to the Congresswoman on Twitter and Youtube, one of the citizen-organizers who was saddened by Comstock’s mockery of the volunteer moderator, explained that Todd Kliman was chosen because of his ability to serve as a neutral, non-partisan member of the press who can moderate the event with “grace and civility.” She rejected Comstock’s criticisms by saying, “You’d rather sit on a phone call and take potshots at people who aren’t even there to respond.”
Todd Kliman, for his part, had this to say in response to his Congressional critic:
In a statement released by the citizen group today, Guy Potucek, an engineer who lives in Ashburn, Virginia, who listened to the tele-town hall and was dismayed by what he heard, said “It is unfortunate that Representative Comstock chose to use time on her tele-conference with constituents to try to dismiss and belittle a volunteer group’s efforts to host a citizen-led town hall,” he said. “We have worked hard to create a forum for respectful, productive, and much needed dialogue between the congresswoman and her constituents.
Last night Barbara Comstock left a broad swath of her constituents to grapple with the discouragement wrought by her continued refusals to attend a Town Hall, along with her criticisms of the citizen-led event that will be held on Friday night. The longer she refuses, the louder the cry becomes. The more she limits her engagements to meeting with small groups and individuals to offer up her self-styled boutique constituent services, the more press attention she will garner.
Watch yesterday’s NBC Washington report on Barbara Comstock’s continued refusal to attend the Town Hall:
If you had a hard time getting to sleep last night, just remember that constituents will always get the last word, whether on late-night Twitter, or at the election booths in 2018:
Update: Watch District 10 residents urge Comstock to “Please come Friday!”