Pressure has been building for U.S. Congress members to hold in-person town halls in their districts. On Thursday night, northeast Georgia Rep. Doug Collins held one over the phone.
In an hourlong call, Collins took 12 full questions from constituents. He assured listeners that his staff doesn’t unfairly screen calls.
“They simply put up the questions so we can get as many as we want to,” Collins said.
It's the Republican representative's first such forum since the U.S. House voted to pass the GOP's health care measure.
The questions and comments he fielded appeared evenly divided between people concerned about the Trump administration and strong supporters of the president, like Diane from Canon, Georgia. Callers gave only their first names.
"Y'all need to follow Trump's agenda; that's why we voted Republican," said Diane, who’d called in to voice her approval of the recent move by the governor of Texas aimed at punishing so-called “sanctuary cities.”
Callers’ topics ranged from support for a national concealed carry reciprocity bill to investigations into the Trump administration’s relationship with Russian officials.
“I want to know, are you going to be able to get the press to talk about the Republican work on health care, tax reform, infrastructure or are they only going to talk about the Russia investigation?” asked Nancy in Gainesville.
Collins assured her the press was listening in and thanked her for the call.
Many wanted to talk about health care. Some worried about losing insurance under the GOP health bill.
Hannah from Dahlonega told Collins that prior to Obamacare, she’d gotten gastroenteritis when she could not afford health insurance.
“I came very, very close to dying of dehydration as a 19-year-old,” she said, adding that her family feared an emergency room trip would have bankrupted them. “That’s what it’s like to be uninsured.”
“As a Christian, my question to you is, How do you justify a vote to deny access to lifesaving care?” Hannah asked.
“You believe in the wrong talking points, Hannah,” Collins responded, after saying she’d mischaracterized his faith.
Ty from Lake Burton felt Collins had been dismissive of callers critical of the GOP health plan and demanded a face-to-face town hall.
"You can control the forum because you're in charge of it. And you can quote any kind of bogus facts you want to, you can overspeak over people who are trying to voice something, but you are not representing the people," Ty said.
Their exchange was one of a few of tense back-and-forths.
Collins said he's planning an in-person town hall by the end of the summer.
As the hour came to an end, Collins barreled through almost 30 questions in under 10 minutes. He did not read the questions he was answering aloud.
"Steve Fish from Gainesville: I mean, I think you're supporting the president. I support ideas. When ideas are right I support ‘em. When they're wrong, I don't, and at this point we need to move conservative values forward as we go forward," said Collins, answering one man for roughly 12 seconds.
Collins' office estimates more than 4,000 constituents participate in the calls. They say the telephone town halls allow him to reach the entire 9th District, which covers 20 counties.