Pennsylvania’s congressmen and senators are home this week for the district work period — regularly scheduled days when they leave D.C. to tackle constituent concerns. If representatives don’t schedule town halls, sometimes constituents will.
At a people’s town hall in Washington, Pa., near Pittsburgh, an audience of about 45 listened to Leeann Howell talk about how repealing the Affordable Care Act would affect her. Howell said without the ACA, she’d have to quit her job in order to be her son’s 24-hour-nurse.
“I’m the breadwinner in my family, I always have been. If I can’t work, then my family loses everything,” she said. “It’s not perfect, but let’s fix it.”
Howell asked her congressman, U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-18), to reject repeal of the act. Though he was invited to the town hall, Murphy did not attend.
Throughout the commonwealth, residents are calling for town halls while Pennsylvania’s congressmen and senators are home this week for the district work period — regularly scheduled days when they leave D.C. to tackle constituent concerns. But if representatives don’t schedule them, constituents sometimes will.
On Tuesday, “with or without” town halls were held for U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-5), U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-3), U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-12), U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-18), and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania).
Keystone Crossroads contacted the offices for all 18 congressmen and both senators. Three confirmed they would be holding town halls during the recess. Some remained undecided, others reiterated their numerous public events, and six offices did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Many offices confirmed they had received requests for town hall meetings. Find a round-up of their responses in the chart below.
The Washington, Pa. event focused on access to health care, and the difficulties many people would face if the ACA were repealed. But then the floor was opened to broader concerns.
“So, where is Congressman Murphy?” a woman asked. “Was he notified of this and what does he say or what does his office say about why he’s not here?” Before anyone could answer, Matt Cairone stood up.
“I’ll take an educated guess. He’s hiding from this,” said the Cecil Township resident. “He doesn’t want to come here and answer these questions, and as our representative, he needs to do that.”
Kathleen Kleinmann is CEO of the Tri-County Patriots for Independent Living, which helped organize the Washington, Pa. event. She said it’s possible the invite got lost between Murphy’s local and D.C. offices, though she had the impression there could be another reason.
“The representatives are kind of in general afraid to go to these kinds of events. Because they’re being attacked,” she said.
A spokesperson for Congressman Lou Barletta (R-11) said in a statement that traditional town hall meetings are not the most effective way for the congressman to talk with his constituents.
“Unfortunately, the disruptive behavior of a few people prohibit others from having a productive conversation,” adding that he was willing to sit down with anyone “including those who have opposing viewpoints.”
Representative Glenn Thompson’s office said in a statement that he welcomes all constituents to meet with him, voice their concerns, and find common ground. “What he will not do is offer a venue for paid activists and political opposition to create a spectacle.”
However, those without town halls scheduled this week aren’t necessarily ducking the voters: many representatives hold regular telephone-town halls that don’t fall during this week, or have public events lined up in the coming months. Recently-elected U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-8) began a 100-business tour this year, as well as a health care listening tour.
At the town hall in Washington, Pa., Lee Bloom said he attended in order to encourage Murphy and other congressmen to be a check on the White House.
“I’m concerned that these Republicans are worried about their party and not the country. And none of them are having the guts to say what they really think about what Trump’s doing. They’re backing him up. That’s what worries me. That scares me,” he said.
As the meeting wound down, people talked about the best way to create dialogue with their elected representatives. “None of us here are paid to be here!” a woman said, as she passed the microphone to her neighbor.
Keystone Crossroads contacted Pennsylvania’s 18 congressmen and two senators to see if they were holding town halls during the first district work period of the new U.S. Congress. Here’s the breakdown.
|Representative||Party||Congressional district||Town hall during recess?||Comment from office*|
|Senator Bob Casey||Democrat||n/a||Not at this time.||“We will have an announcement soon.”|
|Senator Pat Toomey||Republican||n/a||Not at this time.||“Senator Toomey has been to all 67 counties across Pennsylvania at least twice over the past six years. He’s held 14 town hall meetings. These have traditionally taken place in the summer months.”|
|Congressman Robert Brady||Democrat||PA-1||Not at this time.||“The majority of calls to our office are to urge the Congressman to continue to fight for the ACA and thanks for his participation in the demonstrations at the Philly airport against Trump’s anti-immigration executive order.”|
|Congressman Dwight Evans||Democrat||PA-2||No.||“Our timeframe was always going to be in the spring when we’re fully staffed and onboarded. We’re hoping to do it in March.”|
|Congressman Mike Kelly||Republican||PA-3||Yes. Tele-town hall on Monday, 2/27||“By enabling callers to participate from their own home, our office can ensure that the greater number of constituents can easily join the discussion, especially busy parents and seniors. We will make sure that every topic is covered and that constituents from each county are heard.”|
|Congressman Scott Perry||Republican||PA-4||No.||“In the four years since he’s been in Congress, he’s conducted 18 in-person town hall meetings in all four counties he serves, as well as multiple Facebook and Telephone Town Halls. In addition, he’s met with hundreds of constituents who requested individual meetings with him to discuss matters before Congress. He’ll continue to do all these things in the weeks and months ahead.”|
|Congressman Glenn Thompson||Republican||PA-5||No.||“Unfortunately, the individuals who have been most vocal about holding a town hall have also declined offers to meet with the Congressman personally. Last year alone, Congressman Thompson hosted more than 1,000 constituent meetings.”|
|Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick||Republican||PA-8||No.||“Brian’s kept an aggressive schedule since being sworn-in just over a month ago. Aside from participating in a number of community events, he’s been active in working through the list of the large number of community groups and organizations who’ve requested times to sit down and talk so he can take in as much information as possible at the start of his first term.”|
|Congressman Tom Marino||Republican||PA-10||No.||“Over the past two years, we have held many town hall meetings throughout our 15-county district. In addition, we have also held numerous tele-town hall meetings that allow thousands of constituents from across the district to hear what is happening in Washington, D.C. and ask Congressman Marino questions.”|
|Congressman Lou Barletta||Republican||PA-11||No.||“The Congressman finds that he engages more productively with his constituents during his Main Street Tours, which are public visits to downtown areas throughout the 11th District. His next Main Street Tour will take place in Luzerne Borough. Furthermore, Congressman Barletta continues to use technology to reach more constituents than is possible through conventional means by employing ‘tele-town hall meetings.”|
|Congressman Brendan Boyle||Democrat||PA-13||Yes. Sunday, 2/26 in Flourtown, Pa.||“A lot of people feel that, given what they’re seeing play out in Washington, they need to interact with their Congressman. We’re trying to interact with them face to face. There are multiple ways we can communicate, but nothing beats actually being in the same room with your constituents.”|
|Congressman Mike Doyle||Democrat||PA-14||No.||“We do not have any town halls scheduled for this week, but Congressman Doyle has had four speaking engagements in the last two weeks where he spent the majority of the time answering questions from constituents.”|
|Congressman Lloyd Smucker||Republican||PA-16||No decision has been made.||“There are numerous ways Rep. Smucker can engage with his constituents. Emails, letters, telephone and public town halls, social media, the list goes on. We are constantly determining which combination of the many different outreach tools we can use is most effective to hear from as many constituents as possible.”|
|Congressman Matthew Cartwright||Democrat||PA-17||Yes. Wednesday, 2/22 in Dickson City, Pa.||“Normally he does town halls and coffees throughout the year. This one was already planned for the District Work Period.”|
*Statements edited for length.
|Congressman Ryan Costello||Republican||PA-6|
|Congressman Patrick Meehan||Republican||PA-7|
|Congressman Bill Shuster||Republican||PA-9|
|Congressman Keith Rothfus||Republican||PA-12|
|Congressman Charles Dent||Republican||PA-15|
|Congressman Tim Murphy||Republican||PA-18|