Government

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Kelly Goes from Tele-Town Hall to Fox & Friends

February 28, 2017

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-3 Pa., wasted no time pushing back against the small group of critics who picketed his offices in Erie and Sharon, Pa., last week demanding that he hold a town hall in person and not over the telephone.

As Kelly opened his tele-town hall Monday night, he read a statement extolling the convenience of dialing in rather than driving to a site in his district that stretches from Erie to Butler, Pa.

“We’ve always done telephone town halls,” he said. “For the last six years, we thought that this is the most convenient way to hear from our constituents. You can sit in your home. You don’t have to worry about driving somewhere, spending money on gas, and you can be heard, and not only can you be heard but thousands of others can hear you at the same time.”

The first caller, a woman from Cambridge Springs, was not swayed.

If your constituents are such avid Trump fans, as you recently told Fox News, why can’t we meet with you at a town hall or in small groups?

You can, said Kelly, a car dealer from Butler, Pa., who was first elected in 2010. Call my office and schedule an appointment.

The second caller, Peg, pressed Kelly on President Trump not releasing his tax returns and his business and political business relationships with Vladimir Putin and Russian businessmen.

She identified herself as “chairperson of Northwest Pennsylvania Indivisible,” a newly formed political action group. “We don’t want to yell. We don’t want to have a spectacle,” she said. “But we’re also hoping for a full and independent investigation and we want to hear where you fall on this.”

Kelly replied that presidential candidates are not required to release their tax returns, that Trump has said he’s undergoing an IRS audit.

“While it’s a concern for some people, and for some people it’s an obsession, most American people declared Nov. 8 that they wanted Mr. Trump to be their president,” he said.

Kelly did not discuss the caller’s request for an independent investigation into Trump and his campaign’s dealings with Russia.

He is not, of course, the only congressman to hold tele- town halls, nor is he alone for being criticized for not conducting such forums in person.

The conference call format employed by members of Congress is controlled so that no one except Kelly and the caller can be heard, and the moderator quickly moves on to the next question. That ensures no drama like the boos and chants some Republicans who faced constituents endured over the last two weeks –- and Democrats suffered in 2010 when anger first erupted about the Affordable Care Act.

As Kelly’s hour-long tele-town hall continued, the third caller voiced fear over failure to protect the Great Lakes, and the fourth caller reminded him that Trump did not win the popular vote as he questioned congressional Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace the ACA.

“There’s no plan to pull the rug out from under 20 million Americans,” Kelly said. “Nobody is saying we’re going to leave all these people in the lurch. …We’re going to do everything we can to make sure the most vulnerable are taken care of.”

The moderator then asked callers to participate in a poll that asked what they see as the nation’s most pressing problem. He offered specific choices, and quickly announced the results: Economic decline was most worrisome (21%) followed by environmental damage, illegal immigration, health care, terrorism and media bias.

No numbers were provided as to how many people were listening on the call or participated in the survey.

When questioning resumed, callers voiced concerns over the federal budget deficits, welfare recipients and waste in the Veterans Administration. One caller thanked the congressman for his strong pro-life convictions. Another asked him if he supported the president’s executive order banning immigration from seven countries. “Absolutely,” he replied.

Near the end of the conference call, a man identified as Eric complained at length, relatively speaking, about the federal budget deficit. “We’ve had these discussions before,” Kelly said, recognizing the caller by name.

On balance, it was a very friendly tele-town hall, which certainly could be expected seeing as Kelly had no primary or general election opponent in 2016.

Kelly ousted first-term Democrat Kathy Dahlkemper in 2010, in the wake of political upheaval that followed passage of the Affordable Care Act. Today he sits on the powerful Ways & Means Committee, which writes all tax legislation, and has become a favorite of the Fox News cable channel.

Tuesday morning, “Fox & Friends questioned asked him how congressional Republicans are working with the White House on tax reform policy.

“I’m from an area where you’ve got to be able to walk and chew gum, or you shouldn’t be in leadership,” he said.

“It’s going to be a combination of what Ways & Means can put together, what Congress can put together, and what the president wants to do to … This is a president who’s going to get things done, and he’ll use whatever means within his power as the chief executive to do that. Is he going to have to push some people? Absolutely.”

Pictured: U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, right, on the Feb. 28 edition of Fox & Friends.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.