Republican Senator Thom Tillis announced that he would host a 30-minute live Q&A session with constituents on Facebook this Wednesday, answering questions submitted by readers online. Over 200 people responded with questions, many of them regarding Republican plans to gut the Affordable Care Act.
Instead of the promised half-hour Q&A, Tillis only appeared on camera for 11 minutes, answering eight questions asked by a staff member. “We have to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something that works,” he said. “What we also have to do is get through the rhetoric you’re hearing from some people. Some of the mainstream media and others have pretended that there is no replace strategy — there is.” None of the follow-up questions proposed by Facebook viewers were acknowledged.
Republican lawmakers seem to have learned a lesson from unruly Democratic town hall meetings, which were later shared via Youtube and social media by those outraged over the Affordable Care Act. Relatively few Republicans are planning on hosting in-person town hall meetings this year, afraid that any gaffe will re-appear on social media when they are seeking re-election. Instead, Republicans are opting for forums where they have greater control, such as “telephone town halls,” or the kind of Facebook Q&A that Tillis just held.
“In this day and age, real-life town halls are very dangerous for all but the most seasoned politicians,” John Feehery, a former senior House GOP leadership aide, said. “I think John McCain can get away with it and a few others, but most should stick to office hours, really good constituent service or tele-town halls.”
Some Democrats believe that the Republicans could still hurt their chances of re-election by ignoring their constituents. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin said that his state's residents are “scared to death” over losing their health coverage, even though 69% of them voted for Trump. “They don’t know how they got their health care,” he said. “They’re going to know how they lost it, I guarantee you that.”