In a scant 45-minute town hall, which Pennsylvania residents could access via telephone or web stream, Sen. Pat Toomey fielded just 10 questions Thursday afternoon.
The telecast Q&A, Toomey’s first since Sept. 8, 2016 —as federal rules prohibit town halls up to 60 days from an election —was publicly announced just 90 minutes before its 2:05 p.m. start.
In it, Toomey, who has faced mounting criticism over his approval of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and “rubber-stamping” of other nominees selected by President Donald Trump, fielded questions ranging from why he doesn’t hold town halls to what his plan is for sanctuary cities.
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On why Toomey’s office doesn’t answer calls
Thousands of calls, emails and faxes have flooded the Republican senator’s offices around the state and in Washington, in recent months. Toomey said he has just a “handful of staff” to respond to the deluge and that they try to answer calls as best they can. Never, he said, have they turned off phones.
However, Toomey also called out “organized, orchestrated efforts” to block the senator’s phone lines, saying such efforts obstruct citizens from voicing their opinions.
On Michael Flynn and Russia
Calling the former national security advisor’s furtive discussions with a Russian ambassador — and subsequent lying about it to Vice President Mike Pence — “a fireable offense,” Toomey raised questions surrounding spying and the nature of the leak.
“There are laws that prohibit them from spying on Americans and Gen. Flynn is an American,” he said. “We need to understand what happened here. Why was he being spied on? Who was engaged in it? Were they in violation of the law? Did they have a warrant do to that? Why was it leaked, and who leaked it to the press? We have new questions that need we need answers to.”
Another caller raised concern over Russia's "antics," to which Toomey responded: "[Russian President Vladimir] Putin is a dangerous man. He’s an authoritarian. He’s stolen tens of billions of dollars from the Russian people. The murders of Russian politicians. Journalists who challenge [Putin] end up dead."
Toomey added that he's disappointed the president isn't more critical of Putin.
Acknowledging that DeVos was never an educator, and never worked in public schools, Toomey also lauded her experience in working toward a cause he supports: "school choice."
The senator said while wealthier families can choose to send their children to private schools, or can move to areas with better public schools, low-income and working-class families don't have the same luxury, and said he backs DeVos' aim in promoting school choice.
On sanctuary cities
Asked by a Pottstown, Pennsylvania, resident what he intends to do about Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney's sanctuary city policies — which, she said, are bringing "not-so-nice" people into Pottstownand their gunfights — Toomey said he agreed with withholding "significant categories" offederal funding from sanctuary cities.
"I just think that's a very reasonable thing for us to do," he said. "These sanctuary cities make us all less safe ... The city of Philadelphia has released dangerous criminals onto the streets."