Republican lawmakers are facing pointed questions and raucous crowds at town hall meetings across the country this month. Freshman 19th Congressional District Representative John Faso (R-Kinderhook) is not one of them.
Instead, the veteran Albany politician turned Congressional neophyte is meeting with constituents in smaller forums. “I’ve seen around the country the ways the town halls have been conducted,” said Faso at a $20 a plate event for small business owners in Monticello on Tuesday. “They’re not productive and nobody believes they’re productive.”
The rowdy forums, where Republican senators and Congress members have endured heated, angry questioning over the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, ties between Trump administration officials and Russia and other issues, have become a cable news staple in recent weeks. In many cases, the opposition is organized by grass-roots activist groups or local Democrats. Observers have drawn parallels with the reception given to Democratic lawmakers from the then-nascent Tea Party wing of the Republican Party after the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act.
In Ulster County, the liberal activist group Citizen Action of the Hudson Valley invited Faso to a town hall meeting at George Washington Elementary School, 67 Wall St., scheduled for Friday, Feb. 24 at 6 p.m. Faso declined the invitation citing a previously scheduled event in another part of the district. Instead, Faso offered to meet with small delegation from Citizen Action in his Kingston office on Thursday, Feb. 23.
But Citizen Action of the Hudson Valley lead organizer Callie Jayne said a closed-door meeting with a handful of group members was an insufficient response given area resident’s deep concern over the direction the country will take with Republicans holding the White House, the Senate and Congress. Jayne said that concern was evident in the number of people who had signed up for the town hall forum. Jayne said the signup list had already reached City Hall’s 280 seat capacity and the waiting list included 400 names. Jayne said the group was seeking a larger venue for the event, which it found late Wednesday in George Washington Elementary.
“There are hundreds of people, thousands of people who want to talk to him,” said Jayne.
Jayne described a “whirlwind” of activism prompted by Trump’s election that had kept groups like Citizen Action busy organizing and educating. Much of that effort, she said, involved educating people with little or no experience in activism how to contact and influence their elected officials. A forum like Friday’s town hall, she said, would have given residents an opportunity to question Faso on his voting record so far and his intentions going forward. Jayne said that much of the concern centered on how Faso would handle the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Republicans have long promised to repeal the law informally known as Obamacare. But since winning unified control of the federal government, the party has faltered over questions of how to repeal the law and what, if anything to replace it with. Faso, who ran as a pragmatic moderate, has said that he supports a “reform and fix” solution that would leave in place popular parts of Obamacare like allowing children to remain on their parents health plan up to age 26 and making insurance companies cover people with pre-existing conditions while ensuring that people who benefited from expanded Medicaid eligibility guidelines do not lose coverage. Faso also told lawmakers, in a surreptitiously recorded closed-doors meeting with GOP colleagues, that he would oppose any effort to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding as part of the repeal effort, calling it a “political minefield.” (Faso added that he would be open to defunding the reproductive health nonprofit agency through other means).
“We need him to publicly commit to not casting a vote, even a procedural vote that could lead to the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act,” said Jayne.
With Faso declining to attend the event, Citizen Action has instead put together a panel of fellow activists to answer questions and make presentations. Invitees include representatives of the Sierra Club, the New York Immigration Coalition and the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy. Representatives will address questions on immigration, healthcare and climate change, Jayne said. Meanwhile, she said the door remains open to Faso.
“We don’t anticipate him showing up, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop asking.”
In an emailed response to questions about the town hall, Faso’s communications director Courtney Weaver said that the Congressman was traveling throughout the sprawling New York 19th Congressional District maintaining an “aggressive schedule” of one-on-one and small-group meetings with constituents. Weaver wrote that Faso had participated in public policy forums, call-in segments of radio and TV shows (including one on Kingston Community Radio on Monday, Feb. 20) and was preparing to host a “telephone town hall” to field questions from constituents who signed up for the event through his website faso.house.gov.