About 2,000 residents poured into a Richardson gym to hear from Congressman Pete Sessions on March 18, 2017. (Photo: Christine Allison)

Politics

Peter Sessions’ No Good, Very Bad Town Hall

The congressman faced 2,000 of his constituents in a Richardson auditorium over the weekend. It did not go so swimmingly.

Since President Trump took office, Republican representatives have been razzed in town halls all over the country. Given the climate, you’d think that U.S Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, might have prepared more than a type-heavy Power Point presentation for the crowd of more than 2,000 constituents. They gathered Saturday afternoon for his town hall at Richardson High School.

He did have some supporters there; I saw several “Make American Great Again” caps and “Repeal Obamacare” posters, along with the curious hand-scribbled “Arrest All Climate Change Believers” sign. But the majority were people with concerns about the new healthcare package, about 75 percent of which derives from the plan Sessions created. There were other passion points. Parents in Richardson who have worked for years to build up their school system are worried about vouchers creating reductions in public school funding. The mention of ‘the wall’ drew big groans, though Sessions got applause for saying it should not go through Big Bend National Park. Planned Parenthood supporters came en masse. Immigration policy was hot.

But for all the many and varied concerns, what struck me most was that the individuals in this misbehaving, heckling crowd were mostly first-timers. New to politics. Mild-mannered suburban folks. They were all ages, about equally male and female. They came from Richardson, Garland, Rowlett, East Dallas, and, to my surprise, even from the Park Cities.  It was an auditorium of garden-variety white people in tee-shirts and Polos, except that they were carrying signs. Oh, and they also were completely out of control.

Congressman Sessions (whom I assume is a good man and emphasized his love of family and his concern for our veterans, among many other wonderful things) was remarkably poised in what was a political Rocky Horror Show. He admonished the crowd for not listening, but clearly they came to be heard. Sessions could have stopped the screaming and chanting if he had been willing to answer his constituents’ questions, but he could not, and would not. Yes, many of the answers would have been complicated and fraught with PR land mines and could not be explained in two sentences. But mostly, the congressman, like so many of his brethren, is simply incapable of answering a direct question. “Do you agree that President Trump should release his tax returns?”

Sessions retrieved some key phrases (“the president and vice president’s tax returns are being audited”) before trying to explain how Washington works. But then the crowd drowned him out with chants of “Yes or no? Yes or no?” All he had to say was “that would be my choice if I were in that position.” Or yes. Or no. Anything resembling an answer. But that is not the language he speaks. And when you obfuscate over and over, you have no chance of connecting with a crowd of the newly-marginalized.

Sessions is aware more than anyone that Hillary Clinton carried his district in November. Until Saturday, he probably thought that older, reliably Republican voters would carry him in the 2018 mid-term. I doubt today that he is feeling so secure.

Comments

  • It’s all astroturf, and the GOP knows it. They are the Stupid Party, but no one is THAT stupid.

    • Happy Bennett

      Screaming, hysterical, demanding individuals having a tantrum at everyone else’s expense ARE truly stupid if they think that their behavior encourages others to be sympathetic to their point of view.

    • MattL1

      It’s mostly (if not entirely) not, and they just think that because it allows them to sleep at night.

    • NealK

      Maybe it is, but I remember Nancy Pelosi and her corrupt ilk claiming the same thing about anti-Obamacare town halls a few years ago. It didn’t end well for them.

      It is also true that the screamers in the audience were acting like jerks.

  • Happy Bennett

    There is no good reason for anyone to act like a horse’s rear end at an open to the public forum meeting with a duly elected representative. It just ruins the experience for everyone. Ask your question sit down and STFU. If you don’t like the answer approach the problem in another reasonable way. There is no difference in my opinion between this behavior and unhinged road rage. You are simply informing me that these “entitled” north Dallas, HP and other folks have more money than brains.

    • Olan Mijana

      The problem was that there was never an answer out of him. The audience gave him a chance. He constantly danced around the question. He refused to rebuke Islamophobia. He blamed students’ desire to hang out in coffee shops as the reason why student loan debt is at all-time levels. He blatantly lied through his teeth by saying that illegals who weren’t committing felonies were safe from deportation. When asked about how he’d like to live on minimum wage while having to acquire health insurance on the open market, he deflected by saying that Congress’s wages haven’t been raised in ten years. Does that sound like someone who deserves an audience’s respect? Absolutely not.

      • Happy Bennett

        Sooo, instead of screaming and yelling “do your job” and “liar” at the top of your lungs repetitively as a form of verbal abuse of the speaker and audience, why not sit down and compose some form of communication to Sessions office personally. I am pretty confident that he will respond to a reasonable communication. Stop abusing everyone else.

        • Olan Mijana

          I’d wager it he does personally respond to a few of those letters. And I’m willing to bet people from that town hall (including myself) will be writing to him soon. But if he wants to show up to a town hall and waste everyone’s time by being patronizing from the get-go and dodge genuine questions, he deserved all the abuse he got.

          • Happy Bennett

            He responds. it is not a waste of time to contact his office in a reasonable manner.

          • Susan Chizeck

            he responds with non sequiturs and canned answers that do not address the concerns you have. I write many times and get nothing useful.

        • Travis Rex

          lol OK, snowflake..

          • Happy Bennett

            At least every snowflake is unique. Horse’s behinds in full road rage mode are all the same….

  • Mavdog

    The honorable Representative is indeed tone deaf to tell the audience they “didn’t know how to listen” when it was he who exhibited that trait.

    While I do give Sessions applause for holding a Town Hall meeting (albeit with a required RSVP in order to attend and with pre-screened questions in an attempt to minimize what was bound to occur), it is evident to all there is a high level of frustration with the current leadership in Congress attempting to ignore the concerns of the electorate with their programs. Continuing down this road will likely cost them in mid-terms, the question now is how much it will cost them. From the look of what is being voiced in events such as this town hall, the answer is a lot.

  • DubiousBrother

    Pete Sessions hasn’t been in Congress long enough to know how to answer questions about the proposed health care changes. “We have to pass the bill before you can see what is in it. Next question please.”
    He also can remind the malcontents that Hillary lost the election as Obama used to like to say.
    It is fun to watch them though.

  • Alex Muse
    • Mavdog

      No, the remark “almost none of them were from his district” is completely false.

      Rep. Sessions required an RSVP in order to attend and stated “the limited capacity of the venue, we will provide priority access to the auditorium to residents of the 32nd District of Texas on a first-come, first-served basis”. Many constituents of Rep. Sessions district were unable to get into the meeting due to it being over subscribed by other constituents of Sessions’ district who had already RSVP’d.

      https://sessions.house.gov/services/town-hall-meetings

    • Greg_the_Rugger

      Fake News source. The majority were residents of TX32.

  • RAB

    By the way, it was Trump’s habit of actually answering a question (albeit frequently with a lie or an exaggeration) that won a lot of his supporters over. I think it was also Hillary’s refusal to take a stand on any issue early in her campaign (during the “listening” period and then for some time thereafter) that allowed Bernie’s meteoric rise. Say what you will about Bernie’s policies, he didn’t hide behind deflections and circumlocutions. People are just sick and tired of politics as usual and the contortions that politicians twist themselves into to avoid being pinned down on anything definitive.

    • callison

      @RAB I agree with you. I think what I saw Saturday were people who are more outraged than enraged, if that makes sense. There was a sense of disbelief that Sessions couldn’t look his constituents in the eye and give a clear, simple answer. (Exception: he declared forcefully that he is not in favor of cutting Meals on Wheels, a deal point in Trump’s budget proposal. Yay.) But this was a build up of something bigger than Sessions. Trump and Bernie are masters of straight talk, straight lies, whatever. They were stand-out candidates because they spoke their minds, and didn’t appear beholden. You nailed it. And it is a crucial note for 2018-ers.

  • Poetaster Dallas

    SAYETH THE TOAD
    “Ribbit” croaked Toad as he crawled from the swamp,
    “Ribbit, ribbit,” said Toad to his voters, a la trompe.
    “Ribbit this,” they replied (you could say they’re irate
    When national matters hold a life-or-death fate.)
    “What about Healthcare? School vouchers? Immigration?
    Where the heck is this President leading our nation?”
    (Suspecting fake voters who’d eluded efforts to prohibit
    Any such dissent at event), Toad replied, “Ribbit.”
    And ignorant of perceptions that his croak lacked
    What voters were seeking. An opportunity to attract
    Missed. Sorry Toad, better hope that Pres Trump
    Has a cabinet seat to offer, a little sump’n sump’n
    For your tea party loyalty in the last election
    Let’s see if on the backside he shows you his affection.

  • Aaron Collins

    On the one hand, I believe we should all be rational and calm and respectful. On the other hand, passion about issues that matter to you is important.

  • Happy Bennett

    And that’s why it’s called “Tom Price’s Bill”?. You can believe what you want, but many of the provisions deal with the issues of states which expanded Medicaid–something which is not a large issue in Texas or Session’s district.

    • Mavdog

      …and “many of the provisions” do not “deal with the issues of states which expanded Medicare”.
      Such as:
      – elimination of the tax credits and repeal of the subsidies used by low income insured who bought their coverage through the exchange.
      – repeal of the coverage mandate.
      – elimination of the “cadillac tax” for generous policies provided to employees.
      – gutting the age-band provision, thus allowing insurers to hike premiums for the elderly.
      – allowing for higher limits on contributions to an HSA, a gift for higher income households.

      I know that Trump doesn’t want it to be called “TrumpCare”, and Brady doesn’t want it to be called “BradyCare”, and Ryan cringes when it is called “RyanCare”, Price doesn’t want his name on it either. Seems none of the Republican leaders want their name on this legislation. That alone should tell us something.

      The most accurate name for this legislation is “WeDon’tCare”.

      • Happy Bennett

        I don’t think it’s a “WDC” issue at this point, it’s obvious that the politicians involved on both sides of the aisle are going to have to have a pain management consultant after 1) overselling their ability to fix the issues which voters do not like 2) dealing with insurance company reluctance to absorb loses 3) funding an accessible public avenue to healthcare for the indigent. I wondered when you were going to bark at me Mavdog–I thought that you were busy with basketball this month–(lol)

        • Mavdog

          I am very, very busy with basketball, this is a glorious time of year except for the beloved Mavs. The tournament is on pause until later this week so I can address your mischaracterzations. Must admit the Mavs missing out on the playoffs is just fine with me, I’ll take a lottery pick to go with the young players that the front office has assembled.

          Back to the ACA repeal, uh replace, well let’s just call it gutting. Trump did say that he guarantees “healthcare for everyone”, which is technically not a lie just not a complete statement. With this bill it is more accurately “healthcare for everyone who has the financial ability to pay the insurers whatever they wish to charge”. They should be honest and name the Republican bill just what it is: “The American Insurance Industry Care Act”, as it protects the industry not the insured.

          The healthcare insurance cos. don’t “absorb loses” currently, they are doing just fine. It’s just those pesky SG&A expenses that have them showing a loss some qtrs. I wonder why those are so large?

          I wish we were just dealing with the “indigent”. It is not the indigent, it’s the middle and lower income households that cannot afford the cost of insurance or when getting treatment have their finances turned upside down. The ACA was an effort to deal with the issue bit it did not go far enough, they should have not let the insurers into the tent to get it passed. This Republican replacement is going in the other direction and making the situation much worse. There is not a single item in the bill that will reduce the cost of healthcare nor the cost of healthcare insurance.

          • Happy Bennett

            I agree completely about the Health Insurers, and the last paragraph. Have a glorious rest of the season.

      • DubiousBrother

        I’m thinking that since this bill will represent a 2 time loser, they should call it HillaryCare.

        • Mavdog

          You must have forgotten Hillary was a 2 time winner.
          The proposed “HillaryCare” was exponentially better thought out then this current piece of legislation.

          • DubiousBrother
          • Mavdog

            Now you are going after Chelsea? good grief…
            Please get professional help for your Clinton obsession. Quickly.

          • DubiousBrother

            Trust me I would never go after Chelsea but she deserves the lifetime achievement award for sure – up next, the Nobel Peace Prize.

          • Mavdog

            What? “Trust me I would never go after Chelsea” right after you went after Chelsea?
            Clearly you have been taking lessons from Trump on dishonesty…

          • DubiousBrother

            How is that going after Chelsea – you said Hillary was a 2 time winner and Chelsea just won this incredible award for lifetime achievement so I switched from HillaryCare to ChelseaCare. Win Win.

          • RAB

            “Piece of shit,” or POS, was how I used to describe things or people I despised. However, “piece of legislation” sounds so much more appropriate and biting, as in, “He’s a real POL.”

  • Emma

    For all the people who think these are all protestors….well, they were checking IDs and driver’s licenses along with a roster of RSVPs. Every single person in that room is a legitimate constituent of Pete’s. 2,000 people who demand their representative to be honest and open with them is not astroturfing. Maybe that helps the opposition sleep at night but there is a big resistance against the Trump agenda. It grows each day.

  • sally65

    Sessions attends our church. Don’t know him personally but his values and political views make him, in my book, not such a good guy and not such a good Christian given how he’s part of that cadre who believes in trickle down economics…only they don’t really believe in trickle down…..they believe that for every 5 cents that trickles down to the middle class, $100,000 goes in the pocket of the 1%. He’s got charm, but I don’t think there is a Republican in Congress these days who is a decent human being……..

  • TRex:ex

    The question of President Trump releasing his tax returns is not a “simple question” but a “gotcha” question from the Democrat talking points created to sow dissension and make a headline. The writer’s treatment demonstrates that she has little clue of what really was going on. And, she just assumes the protesters came individually and not part of the Dem plan to astroturf the town halls. Nevertheless, the district is less Republican than it used to be, and Pete Sessions will need to work harder at the next election cycle. However, one should keep in mind that many traditional Republicans did not vote for Trump but would vote for Sessions.

  • Pat Landers McFadden

    Check out Darrell Rodriguez who is trying to get his name on the ballot so he can run against Sessions.