On Thursday, February 16 at 1:52PM I found out that Senator Pat Toomey was holding a town hall at 2:05PM. Virtual only, via phone and web audio means. So I joined. This post consists of the notes I was able to take and links that I think are relevant to the questions he received and answers he gave. The people who run the account @WhatsPatUpTo recorded the call and posted the audio files at that link. I believe the numbers reported by the Senator at the end of the call was that somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 people were listening in.
I tried my best to represent the answers Toomey gave during the town hall accurately below.
Senator Toomey started the call by acknowledging the frustration that constituents have felt trying to get through to him. He blamed this on “organized, orchestrated efforts to block phones” which are preventing real Pennsylvania constituents from getting through. Despite repeating this claim numerous times in the 50 minutes of the town hall, Senator Toomey offered no evidence that the people overwhelming his phones were not his constituents as well. His assumption is his phones are overwhelmed because of non-constituent agitators; a claim he offered zero evidence to substantiate. He also did not give any information on what volume of calls his phone system could handle and whether or not it was possible for his constituents alone to overwhelm it, if they, for example, felt like their interests were not being represented by a Senator who’s rubber-stamping all of the President’s nominees.
After talking about methods for communicating with him, Senator Toomey spent some time talking about his frustration at the way the Democrats are dragging out the process of cabinet nomination confirmations. He was well aware of how many nominees had been confirmed at this point in Bush’s and Obama’s administration but said nothing of why Democrats are protesting. His stance seemed very clear: is the Senate’s duty to confirm all nominees and get a working government in place. Nothing was mentioned of vetting or questioning.
After this, the Senator transitioned into a statement about Obamacare; declaring that it is in “freefall”; offering as evidence that as much as 40% of Pennsylvania only has one provider as an option on the ACA Marketplace. The Senator did not mention that one of the reasons might not be related to competition or profit. The Senator claimed that we need to repeal Obamacare so that his constituents might have actual competition. The Senator did not acknowledge that repeal would mean people who are legally guaranteed the one provider now will have no legally guaranteed providers after repeal. The Senator may be confused on what competition is.
On the recent Muslim Ban Executive Order, the Senator stated that he felt it was flawed. The flaws were that it was too broad, that it should not have included green card holders, and it should not have stopped those who have helped our military (and have thus demonstrated their “loyalty” to the US). However, the Senator agrees with the fundamental premise that we “need a tougher mechanism for vetting those from failed states”. The Senator failed to mention any evidence that we are not tough enough currently; he failed to describe what the process is currently nor did he mention why it might be enough. The Senator was extremely vague on what a tougher mechanism might look like. On top of this vagueness, the Senator used this point to segue into an extended statement about his agreement with Trump’s Executive Order on Sanctuary Cities and the Senator’s desire to introduce legislation to federally remove the ability for local governments to choose how they will handle their relationships with Immigration agencies. The Senator’s premise was that his constituents who live in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh (both Sanctuary cities) are making us unsafe.
Question and Answer Section
The following is my best attempt to transcribe and accurately represent the contents of the Townhall meeting.
Q: Why do you not answer your phones?
A: Have not ever turned off phones. The Senator claims, without offering any evidence or proof, that the volume of calls is a combination of Pennsylvania citizens who “deserve to get through” and also “people from all over the country” who are “making it difficult” for those real constituents to reach him. The Senator recommends people go to his website, which I’m sure is much less annoying and frustrating for his staff than the incessant ringing of phones.
Q: I’m concerned about General Flynn’s resignation? What are we doing about Russia?
A: The Senator responded that we now know that Gen Flynn had some kind of communication with some Russian officials sometime between the campaign and the inauguration, although he doesn’t know exactly when. His understanding is General Flynn was not honest with Vice President Pence about those conversations. That he lied to him. Senator Toomey thinks that’s a fire-able offense. He doesn’t think the President and Vice President can have a National Security advisor that isn’t honest.
Senator Toomey made clear he thinks there are other concerns that are raised. The country found out about these calls from press reports provided by US intelligence agencies that were apparently spying on General Flynn. The Senator admitted that we spy on foreign residents normally, but we have laws to prevent spying on Americans, and those are good laws, and we need to know why he was being spied on. What was their authority; did they have a warrant or were they in violation of the law? And why was it leaked? The Senator did not mention that all that was leaked was that the calls happened, and their contents are still unknown. The Senator did not seem to feel that the President’s nonchalance about this offense is possibly more appalling than the leak. The Senator did saythat this is important and along with investigating it, we ought to be continuing the investigation (and i think we are) about the Russian attempt to interfere with the election?”
Q: What is the plan to repeal the ACA? It’s irresponsible to not have a replacement ready.
A: Senator Toomey wants to repeal Obamacare because it’s collapsing. That, he claims, is a fact. A fact offered without any evidence. A “fact”, if you will. He did not even define collapse, nor did he explain why its failure was worse than the absence of Obamacare. The Republican plan, according to him, is to prop up the ACA Marketplace for 2-3 years so they can implement the reforms necessary to replace Obamacare. The reforms necessary, according to Senator Toomey, are – dear reader you will not be surprised by this – still unknown. They are necessary though. And coming. And definitely not just a talking point to make it sound like they have a plan. The reforms will give us lots of choices and competition, the Senator claimed. He did not explain via what mechanisms or legislative changes, however. Senator Toomey seems to trust that because we are all intelligent people we will accept his word without applying any of our intelligence to see that his answer lacked a certain quantity of substance. Any substance, truthfully.
Senator Toomey did acknowledge that there are some people who have chronic, expensive healthcare conditions, sometimes from birth and sometimes developed in the course of life. These people, declared the Senator, need to be taken care of. Republicans, the Senator calmly assured us, recognize this and want to ensure that care is available and affordable. The Senator vaguely mentioned the word subsidy but did not otherwise seem to have any information to provide his constituents on how Republicans plan to accomplish it. Never-the-less, he reminded us, Obamacare is failing. We need, declared the Senator, an alternative.
What it looks like is left to the voter’s imagination.
Q: I am concerned about Russia; the missile launch and the ship off shore that the President mentioned. What do you plan on doing about it?
A: [The Senator recounts the list of horrible things that Putin and Russian have done]. Senator Toomey is disappointed that Trump has not been more openly critical of Putin and Russia. The Senator believes Mattis and Tillerson are under no illusions of the nature of the Russian Regime and he trusts them. He’s an advocate of strengthening the sanctions and providing support to Ukraine. He thinks we need to take a very tough line. He fears that Putin is trying to figure out how much he can get away with. The Senator thinks we need to push back aggressively. The Senator has forgotten to mention this position in any public forum outside the Townhall, as far as I have found.
Q, from a PA Community School Board Member: Why did you vote for Devos who has no background in education whatsoever and who is going to make it harder for our district to run?
The Senator states he thinks of the issue like this: DeVos has spent decades of her life actively engaged in supporting a cause that He feels strongly in agreement with. That cause is “giving parents a choice in their schools”. If you’re rich, the Senator claims, you have lots of choices but if you’re low income you don’t have choice and you don’t have the option of private education. The Senator wants low income people to have the same choices. The Senator links school choice to upward class mobility. Devos, he claims, has argued that we should offer every parent the choice for what is best for their kids. If the public schools are good the parents won’t need a choice… He doesn’t intend to destroy public education nor does he think DeVos intends to do that either. The Senator trusts that her intentions outweigh her complete lack of experience. The Senator offers no evidence of what she has actually done aside from donate money.
The Senator did not mention how “School Choice” is a racist dogwhistle nor did he mention how a focus on competition and choice conveniently sidesteps the question of why a specific school in a poor district is underfunded and underperforming despite the fact that a specific school in a rich district just a few miles away is meeting all standards. The Senator does not intend to destroy public education, nor does he think DeVos intends to do that either.
The Senator also has an OpEd in the Patriot News today defending his decision to vote for Betsy DeVos. An OpEd where the Senator defines “opportunities” for a child as “the ability to choose a different school” and not “the ability to assume that our public education system will give them the best possible education”. A subtle difference, but one that strangely ensures that Billionaire assholes can divert public money away from the common good and towards the interests they decide is best for education, whether or not there is any evidence backing up that misconception. The Senator does not intend to destroy public education, nor does he think DeVos intends to do that either.
Q: There’s an awful lot of talk about how bad the economy is for working people, from the President down; about how we are suffering and not able to survive. It seems like there are numerous billionaires and basically all corporations are thriving, yet the people who are working class do not seem to be benefitting. Is there something we can do? What do you plan to do about this?
A: The Senator states that wages for most people are definitely not rising and haven’t been for awhile, which means that people’s standard of living is not rising. The Senator mentions something about Financial Asset growth and how this isn’t helping working people. The Senator blames this on existing policies and then proposes 3 solutions which he sums up under the category of Economic Growth:
- Tax Reform: Should happen this year and will make companies feel more free to [indiscriminate mumbling].
- Rolling back regulation: Our economy was better, the Senator seems to be saying, when corporations were more free to pursue profits without concern for the consequences. According to the Senator, regulations are hindering this pursuit of profits and thus preventing American workers from thriving, so we should remove the regulations. Congress is already working towards this goal, most recently blocking regulations that attempt to protect water quality around coal mining. One imagines that workers will profit greatly from the removal of this awful regulation.
- Ending governmental cronyism that prioritizes one industry over the other. The Senator gives the example of the ethanol industry, but spoke in terms that made it clear his aims are much larger. The Senator did not mention any other examples of this desire.
Accomplishing these plans, the Senator claimed, would enable economic growth. Economic Growth, the Senator claims, will create more jobs, and more jobs would mean that wages have to be raised to attract laborers, and thus we would improve things for everyone in America.
It was strange but the Senator seemed unaware of how much economic growth has occurred in America in the past few years. Furthermore, the Senator was unaware of who the economic growth had benefitted. The Senator seemed completely ignorant on how corporations are at expanding profits by reducing labor needs and increasing productivity. Ultimately though the Senator seemed incapable of recognizing that his answer to the question “How do we make the economic growth we’ve experienced in the past few years benefit all the people it has not benefitted”? was a straight faced suggestion to create more economic growth.
Q: I am a racist grandmother who is thankful you voted for DeVos because I love school choice. I put three kids into private Catholic school to avoid people of color but now I’m retired and the country has screwed me over in such a way that I can’t afford to send my niece to a private school which means that she has to be in public school with all the brown and black people who keep moving to my city which was previously self-selecting for people who I do not hate. What are you as my Senator going to do to help stop these people of color who are moving out of Sanctuary Cities to my town to have gunfights on weekends going to do?
Note: Go listen to the audio. I’m not even twisting her words. This woman was racist as fuck.
A: The Senator chooses to accept all of her premises: that school choice is a desire for better education which is impossible in schools with people of color; that DeVos is helpful towards these ends; that “those types of people” who are moving into “her town” cannot be considered legitimate citizens who have just as much to live where they desire; that her question is valid and he owes her a good faith answer about why Sanctuary Cities are dangerous. The Senator accepts all of her racist premises as reasonable and reveals himself to be not interested in representing all citizens of Pennsylvania, instead only those who see the world the way he does. The Senator has no pushback against the questioner’s concern about “those type of people” who are moving into her town because the Senator is happy to use her question to stoke fear based on skin color and vague fears that are impossible to prove.
The Senator “answered” a few more questions; about protests and number of phone calls and various other issues. At this point in the town hall I was seeing so much red from the previous transcribed question I was unable to keep up with notes. The Senator did not provide answers that belied actual positions that could be debated. The Senator ended his first town hall after barely 50 minutes; his first and only Town Hall held after weeks of thousands of daily phone calls from frustrated and angry constituents.
The Senator proved himself worthy of the title “Fucking Toomey”. The Senator has not heard the last from us.