Area lawmakers face constituents angry over Trump agenda in town halls, on phone

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 U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey will have a prominent place at the table Wednesday as debate begins on reconciling the House and Senate versions of the GOP tax overhaul plan. (AP file photo)

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey will have a prominent place at the table Wednesday as debate begins on reconciling the House and Senate versions of the GOP tax overhaul plan. (AP file photo)

Have you tried to contact your representative or senator in Washington lately?

Have trouble reaching them?

If so, you’re not alone.

And that’s putting more focus on upcoming town halls some lawmakers are holding back in their districts.

If you thought watching the new Trump administration take root has been a whirlwind, it’s been even more intense for lawmakers from the region.

U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, a Republican representing parts of four counties west of Philadelphia, said he’s been hearing from people of every stripe.

“There is more emotional intensity and a slightly larger volume of folks that are contacting the office with concerns, frustrations, grievances,” he said.

It’s been even more intense for U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania. His office reports that thousands and thousands of constituents have been in touch, many complaining about President Trump’s Cabinet nominees.

At times, the phone lines have been jammed.

“As you know, we don’t run a call center. We have put all hands on deck to answer all the calls that we can,” Toomey said. “We’re doing the best we can, and it’s getting better.”

The newly re-elected senator dismissed rumors that his staff has purposely let calls go unanswered. They’re just dealing with unprecedented volume, he said.

The office has received thousands of contacts through its web portal, which Toomey said his staff can respond to more quickly.

But Toomey’s staff has noticed out-of-state calls after progressive groups and liberal activists shared his offices phone numbers on social media.

“It makes it harder for my constituents who have legitimate concerns and want to communicate them to do so,” Toomey said. “So it’s really not fair to my constituents.”

It’s not just Toomey hearing complaints. U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Philadelphia, said he heard an earful about Toomey’s clogged phone system during a recent event in Montgomery County.

“But it is interesting. I’m not even a senator and I’ve heard from my own constituents that they can’t get through,” Boyle said.

Now that the GOP is working to repeal and possibly replace Obamacare, Republicans have faced angry protests and vocal supporters of the Affordable Care Act at their town halls.

Republican leaders have held briefings on how to handle opponents and security concerns, and they’ve tried to brush the opposition aside as paid activists. Boyle said it’s dangerous to be so dismissive.

“That’s democracy. That’s people exercising their First Amendment rights. That is the system at its best, working,” said Boyle. “So rather than dismissing those people and making a false allegation that they’re paid, it would be a lot better if some of my colleagues would actually listen to some of what they’re saying.”

While many Republicans are holding off on town hall meetings, U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance, R-Hunterdon, has two planned for next week.

“In fact, I’ve done 40 in person and 40 by telephone,” he said.

Lance, the only New Jersey Republican with a town hall scheduled for the coming week, said he’s not afraid of people who disagree with him.

“I hope there will be a civil discussion about the public issues that confront the American people, and I certainly will engage in civility, as I believe I always have,” he said. “I would like to think that would be true of those who attend the town hall meetings.”

Republican Congressman Tom MacArthur from South Jersey held a tele-town hall recently. He said about 5,000 people were on the call.

“We had people that had all kinds of different opinions. and I told them what I thought on the various issues,”  MacArthur said. “I thought it was good, constructive dialogue.”

It’s risky for Republicans to be dismissive of the growing anti-Trump protests, he said.

“However they’re being organized or however they’re coming together, they still have a right to be heard. And so as long as they’re my constituents, I want to know what they think.”

Republicans regained control of the U.S. House after the 2010 elections, fueled by tea party protests … many of them taking place at congressional town hall meetings.

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