McCaul takes 10 ques­tions in ‘tele­phone town hall’

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Jonathan Tilove jtilove@states­

Michelle Lynn-Sachs of Austin was one of the lucky 10 con­stituents who got to ask her con­gress­man, Rep. Michael McCaul, a ques­tion dur­ing his 52-minute “tele­phone town hall” Wed­nes­day night, but his an­swer let her down

Lynn-Sachs asked the Austin Repub­li­can what he was “will­ing to say to both Jewish con­stituents like me and also to Mus­lim con­stituents who are also the tar­get of hate speech and vi­o­lence around the coun­try.”

“I think there’s no place for that,” said McCaul, chair­man of the House Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee, be­fore re­veal­ing that new in­tel­li­gence had him wor­ried that ISIS is en­cour­ag­ing Mus­lim fol­low­ers to at­tack Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in the West, be­gin­ning in Europe.

“He was silent about the threat against Mus­lims and vi­o­lence against Mus­lims, and, if I had been ques­tion­ing him in per­son, I could have asked about that again,” Lynn-Sachs, a lead­er­ship coach and con­sul­tant in Austin’s Jewish com­mu­nity, said Thurs­day. But, on McCaul’s tele-

phone town hall, there was no way to fol­low up.

Tele­phone town halls have be­come a pop­u­lar means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion for many mem­bers of Congress — a cost-ef­fec­tive way to reach a lot of con­stituents with­out ever leaving Wash­ing­ton and in a con­trolled, risk-free en­vi­ron­ment — no tough, sus­tained ques­tion­ing, no crowd re­ac­tion, no pos­si­bil­ity of a vi­ral video and gen­er­ally very lit­tle press cov­er­age at all.

“These calls are a great op­por­tu­nity to share your views and al­low me to share the work I have been do­ing for you in Wash­ing­ton,” McCaul said at the out­set of the call. Au­dio from the con­fer­ence call also was streamed on McCaul’s Face­book page.

“We are reach­ing 50,000 peo­ple through this call,” said McCaul, whose dis­trict stretches from North­west Austin to the western Hous­ton sub­urbs. “It’s al­most like be­ing in an NFL sta­dium with 50,000 peo­ple. It’s a great way to hear from peo­ple I may not al­ways hear from.”

The ques­tions were pre­screened.

“Those of us who pressed Star 3 were then asked to record our ques­tion,” said Sue Kel­ley, a re­tired at­tor­ney with the Texas at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice. If the recorded ques­tion was cho­sen, the con­stituent was able to call back and pose the ques­tion di­rectly to McCaul, af­ter which the caller’s phone was muted.

“Mine was about Planned Par­ent­hood so that con­signed me to town hall Siberia,” Kel­ley said. She got no call back.

But Siberia was crowded. Ten ques­tions meant that only two-hun­dredths of a per­cent of the 50,000 con­stituents on the call made the cut.

Build­ing the wall

The first call came from a woman in Katy, who, when asked by McCaul how things were in Katy, replied, “Could be bet­ter if we had that wall built by now.”

“That’s where our con­cern is and our only con­cern, be­cause if the il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion doesn’t get un­der control or stop, my hus­band and I for the first time will be leaving Texas, and we are sev­enth-gen­er­a­tion Tex­ans,” she replied.

McCaul said he was a fourth-gen­er­a­tion Texan and shared the caller’s con­cern, as­sur­ing her that, “I think we fi­nally have the po­lit­i­cal will in Wash­ing­ton and the White House” to get it done.

The sec­ond call was from Ruth in Austin, who over a bad con­nec­tion, said, “To me, to build a phys­i­cal wall is an ir­re­spon­si­ble use of money.”

“Sorry Ruth,” replied McCaul, who ev­i­dently had trou­ble hear­ing what she was say­ing. “I think your ques­tion was, ‘What is the wall going to look like,’ and it’s a great ques­tion.”

Ruth had no way to tell the con­gress­man that that wasn’t what she asked, so McCaul of­fered a de­tailed re­sponse at the end of which he again thanked Ruth for the qual­ity of her ques­tion.

“There wasn’t an op­por­tu­nity for fol­low-up ques­tions un­for­tu­nately due to time,” said McCaul spokes­woman Lizzie Lit­zow. “We wanted to get in as many ques­tions as pos­si­ble within the hour.”

Much of the call’s 52 min­utes was con­sumed by McCaul, of­fer­ing talk­ing points on bor­der se­cu­rity, health care and reg­u­la­tion.

“Next time the con­gress­man holds a tele­phone town hall he wants to do less of the talk­ing so we are able to get to more ques­tions from the queue,” Lit­zow said.

Each of McCaul’s dis­qui­si­tions was fol­lowed by a poll.

The first was, “Do you be­lieve we need to se­cure our bor­ders. Press 1 for yes, 2 for no, 3 for I don’t know.”

The sec­ond poll asked, “Do you be­lieve that it is the role of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to man­date the pur­chase of health care?”

The third poll asked, “Do you agree we should do away with one bur­den­some reg­u­la­tion for ev­ery new one that’s im­ple­mented?”

“The pur­pose of the polls is for us to bet­ter learn what our con­stituents are in­ter­ested in and how they feel on par­tic­u­lar is­sues so the con­gress­man can bet­ter rep­re­sent his con­stituency,” said Lit­zow. McCaul doesn’t pub­lish the re­sults.

Re­mov­ing reg­u­la­tions

Mau­reen of Hous­ton asked McCaul who would get to de­cide which reg­u­la­tions would be re­moved to make room for a new one.

Re­call­ing Blue Bell Ice Cream’s ex­pe­ri­ence with lis­te­ria, Mau­reen asked what would hap­pen if there was a need for a new food safety reg­u­la­tion.

“I hope to heaven you wouldn’t want to re­move the reg­u­la­tion re­lated to lis­te­ria,” she said.

“Ob­vi­ously, we don’t want to en­dan­ger the safety of Amer­i­cans,” said McCaul. He said the eval­u­a­tion of which reg­u­la­tion to elim­i­nate to make way for a new one would rest with the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get.

But McCaul, who had ear­lier cited data about what a drag reg­u­la­tion was on the econ­omy, said elim­i­nat­ing reg­u­la­tions is very pop­u­lar with small-busi­ness own­ers in the dis­trict.

“Like Lin­coln said, you can’t please ev­ery­body,” he said.

Lit­zow said Wed­nes­day wasn’t McCaul’s first tele­phone town hall. The last was a lit­tle over a year ago. She said he has done live town halls. The last was in Au­gust 2016.

“The con­gress­man doesn’t usu­ally host tele­phone town halls be­cause he prefers to reach his con­stituents in other ways,” Lit­zow said. “How­ever, there is a lot going on in this cur­rent po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment, and the con­gress­man felt strongly about reach­ing as many folks as pos­si­ble to dis­cuss some of the hot top­ics: im­mi­gra­tion ex­ec­u­tive or­ders, our bor­der, our health care sys­tem, Russia and more.”

McCaul closed the call on an up­beat note.

“We had an over­whelm­ing re­sponse,” he said. “If I was un­able to get to your ques­tion to­day I apol­o­gize for that, and some­body on my staff will be in touch with you shortly.”


U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, whose dis­trict stretches from North­west Austin to the western Hous­ton sub­urbs, speaks at a press con­fer­ence last month. On Thurs­day he said he reached 50,000 peo­ple via his tele­phone town hall.

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