Good day Austin:
U.S. Rep. John Carter, the rock-ribbed Round Rock Republican, had an hour-long telephone town hall Wednesday night from his Capitol office. I listened on my lap top.
Telephone town halls are very convenient for members of Congress.
In the midst of all that’s going on in Washington, members can reach thousands of constituents by conference call and answer a handful of questions without ever leaving their office. Better yet, they canscreen the questions, and avoid a messy, boisterous scene, like that which confronted his Texas colleague Pete Sessions Saturday and headlines like this in the Texas Tribune: U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions faces rowdy town hall. Addressing over 2,000 people, Sessions was frequently drowned out by boos and angry outbursts from the audience. Many of his answers were not entirely audible due to the crowd’s reaction as he began to speak.
And this in the Dallas Morning News: After confronting Pete Sessions at raucous town hall, can Democrats ‘vote him out’ in 2018?
But Sessions, who, as chairman of the House Rules Committee, is in the very thick of the battle over the future of health care, is in a district that voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016, though he had the distinct advantage of having no Democratic opponent.
Trump won Carter’s district and, in the course of his hour-long telephone town hall, he made it clear over and over how much he is loving Trump.
The problem with telephone town halls for the public is that they are, to use a Trumpism, rigged in the congressman’s favor. His people pick questions and none of the 13 questions that Carter was asked was critical or seemed to come from a constituent not already enamored with the Judge, as he is known.
Nonetheless, Carter still gets to cover a lot of territory and any listener will know more about his thinking after listening to the call. But, with so many on the call and so few questions, it can leave many on the call – especially those less enamored with Carter and Trump – frustrated and wishing he would hold a real live town hall where, on way or another, they could make their presence felt.
Back in February, some 300 people turned out at town hall meeting in Cedar Park for Carter’s constituents organized by local activists with Indivisible, a national network of grassroots citizens seeking to thwart the Trump agenda in Washington. Carter declined the invitation to attend and was represented by a cardboard cutout.
Following his telephone town hall, comments on his Facebook page were overwhelmingly critical of the event.
Those comments are interspersed below amid what is a pretty full transcript of the town hall.
I also sent the congressman’s office a number of questions about how many people were on the call, the screening process, and whether there were any live town halls in his future (they have cited security as one of number of reasons for not doing the live events), but have not heard back yet.
Also, the emcee for the call was Grady Bourn, Carter’s legislative director, who has a great voice and manner and could easily fill in on KDRP Sun Radio’s Pioneers of Texas Music if David Arnsburger needs to be spelled.
Grady Bourn: Got a question about our old friend Hillary Clinton and helping Trump accomplish what he needs to do for the sake of the American people.
Walter: Congressman, How you doing?
Carter: I’m doing pretty good.
Walter: My question to you is are y’all doing everything you can do to get Hillary Clinton indicted for the criminal activities she committed, and I think you ought to include Obama in that too. And also, I would like to know if you’re doing everything you can do to help President Trump to accomplish what he said he was going to do, and protect him from the people up there that’s trying to abuse him.
Carter: Yes sir. I’ll answer the last question first. I’m doing everything I can to promote President Trump’s agenda. I was with him yesterday morning. I was again with him last night when he spoke to a large group of people here in Washington. I have the distinct pleasure of being chairman of Homeland Security Appropriations to help the president build his wall he wants to build on the border and protect our southern borders. And we have met with three members of his administration this afternoon with my subcommittee, we had about an hour-and-a-half discussion about the strategy of where you’re going to locate the wall ….
Honestly I’m very excited about what’s going forward because I’ve been dealing with this a long time and it’s great to have a president who really truly wants to get things done.
We’re basically going to do five things that are really important this year.
One of them is the Obamacare vote that’s going on right now to get rid of Obamacare and start down the path of getting a solid insurance program back for everybody.
Secondly, were going to be doing tax reform, which is part of President Trump’s agenda, which Obama was totally against.
Then we’re rebuilding our military and the first budget we got from President Trump is all about the military and billions of dollars above what it normally had in it.
Finally, we are going to try to improve the infrastructure of the country.
All those are President’s Trump agenda. So I am working on at least three of those personally with my committees I work with, and I have always been supportive. Yeah, I’m having a good time because I have a president who, if we pass these things,he will sign them into law.
Oh, you ask about indictment. We’ve got to leave indictment to the Justice Department and we’ve got a good man in there in the Justice Department and if he thinks there are indictable offenses, I’m sure he’ll go forward with them. I have no personal knowledge of what if anything they are doing over there, but that is definitely in the hands of our attorney general.
The second question came from Karen who wanted to known a about making changes in Dodd-Frank.
Carter: Honestly, I don’t if revising the Dodd-Frank Act is appropriate quite honestly. We would be better off if we could abolish the Dodd-Frank Act. It was set up presumably – and no Republicans voted for it – but sold by the Democrats that we are going to fix Wall Street. Well, it didn’t do anything to Wall Street, if anything it reinforced Wall Street. But it’s killing our community bankers around he country and we have lost a tremendous number of good, solid, well-liked community bankers in our part of Texas because of the over-burdensome regulations.
Right now I had five bankers in my office day before yesterday. They were telling tales that they used to have two bank officers that sat there and made loans to our communities so that people could build businesses, buy cars, buy homes, do the things you want to do to build a good life in Texas. Instead of loan officers we have people whose whole job is to make sure that we are complying, that are compliance officers…
The third questions was from Michelle who said she and her husband are both disabled veterans and “we want to know what is being done to truly hold the VA accountable.”
Carter: That’s a great question. Boy it was almost four years ago when we were having the stories breaking about (problems at the VA). We weren’t getting good answers, so we called in the FBI and I met this week with the FBI about that investigation and although they informed me that they found a lot of managerial incompetence and managerial mismanagement, they didn’t find any criminal activity they could go forward on.
But they diligently went through everything at the VA in Temple to make sure and by their very presence there, we saw a lot of firings and lot of changes coming out of the VA because from what we’ve been informed about, the (head of the) VA Hospital has now been replaced by a new person that I haven’t met yet and I plan to meet very soon, and she seems to have been able to call some of those folks out.
There is nothing more horrendous and horrible than to let bureaucrats, through their selfishness, cause harm and unhappiness to those veterans …. and everybody who works for the Veterans Administration here in Washington, are putting major pressures at every point, me included, and I’ve had hearings and been part of hearings and passed a couple of laws, all with the intent of getting back to where the veterans come first.
And you know our president never makes a speech, and I heard him last night, he never makes a speech to which he doesn’t say … `We are going to see that our veterans are taken care of,’ and quite honestly, when President Trump says something, I believe him.
I have great people working in my office who can help people with VA issues and I encourage, if you need help with the VA, call us because we know how to shake the tree and get things done.
Call number 4. Rex in Temple wants to know whether Obamacare will be “repealed, or just beefed up.”
Carter. No sir. It’s kind of hard for the American public to understand that certain things have to be done according to the rules up here and the rules can’t be changed, especially in the Senate. Now I know you’d say, `Yeah they can be changed,’ but believe me, historically it won’t be changed.
So we’re using a process called reconciliation, to where it only takes 51 votes to pass something in the Senate. Normally it takes 60 votes and quite honestly the Democrats are in position of blocking everything President Trump wants to do and so we’re using reconciliation to begin the process by taking out all the major mandates of hte bill and taking all of the taxes out of the bill, which is the hidden taxes which are on all the multiple products including all the prescription drugs you take.
So we basically gut that bill without losing anybody’s opportunity to have their current policy, we still have people getting covered.
We will then go to phase two, which is we put one of the top doctors in our Congress in the position over to HHS to go in and throw out all those onerous regulations that caused Obamacare prices and premiums to go through the roof and that phase will be done within that agency to reduce major amounts of regulation.
The final phase will be phase 3, in which we will go in and we will make multiple major changes in Obamacare and completely abolish Obamacare, making sure, because we’ve had the time to get it ready, that nobody is going to be without the opportunity to get coverage.
It’s not an easy process. It’s kind of like making sausage. You don’t want to see what’s going into it. We have a plan that follows he rules up here, not our rules but the rules in the Senate, and we have to do it in such a way that we get the right vote in the Senate because right now we don’t have 60 Republican votes in the Senate with the Democrats voting no on everything…
Ultimately, he said, “prices will go down and choices will be better. “
It is not an easy process, it’s hard process and, in fact, the reality is, turning back a major entitlement in the United States, what we are going to do under President Trump’s leadership is turn back a major entitlement, and that would be the first time in American history we’ve been able to accomplish that. But don’t expect it t overnight.
Just realize, we will keep you covered but we will get rid of it by doing it in a way that it will be permanently gone and we won’t have to face it again. We can’t afford the premiums and we can’t afford the deductibles and we’ve got to fix the system or we’re all going to lose health care.
So that’s what we’re doing and it’s not pretty and it’s hard and a lot of people get in big arguments up over here. But the reality is the ultimate choice of keeping Obamacare is not a choice. It is going broke and we, through these huge payments we have to make, are having to pay for it.
That’s a long speech, but that’s what’s happening in Washington on health care.
Question 5. Lee wants to know what Carter’s doing about sanctuary cities. “I feel personally that anybody who is here illegally is not allowed to be here and should be deported.”
Carter: I agree with you wholeheartedly.
I’ve spent my life as a judge before I got up here in Washington, basically enforcing the laws of the United States and of Texas and those people who do wrong have to face the consequences. If they are here illegally, they should go home and we should make them go home if they are here illegally.
On the issues of criminal aliens ,it is ridiculous to me that anyone could harbor a criminal alien, but they do. But on sanctuary cities, there was a law passed under Bill Clinton’s administration and signed into law by the president back in the 1990s that said that any public entity that failed to the assist the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which is what it was at the time, or anyone in that category, in sharing information concerning people who are illegally in the country, those entities, like a county or a state or a city, can forfeit all of their federal funds, in fact have to pay back the federal funds they have already received.
We plan to use that law, which has not been enforced and enforce it.
Now people scream and yell at all these sanctuary cities but I’m sorry, a violation of the law in my opinion is the wrong thing. And the only way we’re going to get this stopped is we are going to have to enforce this law and it means that a lot of good programs that people want for their towns, if they allow their city fathers to create sanctuary cities, hey are going to see their funds go down the tubes, they are going to find that they are indebted to pay a lot of them back and they won’t be eligible for federal funds that they have used for the normal operation of building roads, sewer systems and other things.
It’s a serious penalty, it is in the law, it’s clearly stated there and it is the intention of the Trump administration to enforce that law, and we, as members of Congress will be supporting our president.
Let’s break here for a report from a live town hall Carter did attend in 2013.
From Christopher Hooks Texas Observer on August 21, 2013
John Carter’s no squish. The portly 72-year old congressman cuts a figure straight out of Republican central casting. The first Republican elected in Williamson County since Reconstruction, Carter’s been slowly entrenching himself in the GOP establishment for three decades. Last year, the National Journal rated Carter the 11th most conservative member of the House.
But since Carter started indicating an openness to work on some kind of immigration legislation, he’s been getting pushback from his district. Pushback might be too gentle a term for what happened at a town hall meeting last night in Salado. Organized by the Central Texas & Williamson County tea parties, it was one of the congressman’s only publicized town halls of the August recess. Carter ate dinner with more than a hundred tea partiers, and sat with them to watch the quasi-documentary They Come to America II: The Cost of Amnesty.
But during the public town hall that followed, Carter faced a barrage of criticism for his willingness to consider immigration legislation.
In a microcosm of a political dynamic across the country, the conservative grassroots of his district don’t just oppose moving forward with immigration reform: They want the country to move fast in the opposite direction. The end of birthright citizenship. Mass deportations. More walls. Time and again, Carter told the room that he couldn’t get them what they wanted.
“This is a human issue, it involves human beings,” he said in his opening remarks. “It’s an economic issue, and it involves the economy of the United States. And it’s a legal issue.”
Carter presented the tenets of his own plan, which gives undocumented migrants a limited pathway to legalization in return for strengthened border security.
“You want a post hole dug? I can almost guarantee you won’t find anybody to do that job” who is legal, he said. Carter also emphasized that his plan would limit the pathways that legal migrants can use to bring family members to the U.S.
And that’s when things started to go off the rails. Audience members objected to the fact that Carter’s plan would continue to allow the parents of adult migrants here legally to obtain legal status themselves.
“The only reason we have mothers and fathers [in his plan] is because of Asians,” Carter said, to more shouts. “Asians have this mother and father thing.”
The sixth question is on the possibility of a military pay raise.
CARTER: I’m talking off the top of my head, but I believe it’s in our budget for a two, two-and-a-half percent raise, which is more than last year. Trying to get some raise in every budget. Yeah, I want my soldiers paid, I want my military paid, i want them paid well. I’ve got the largest military base – Fort Hood – in my district …
We do have plans for raising pay and President Trump has said every year he is going to do more and more to get pay scales up to where they are competitive and I believe him. And he certainly has showed that he cares about our military because the last eight years, we have taken our military down to pre-World War II and sometimes World War I levels, and the Navy has ship levels about pre-World War I, and he is bound and determined to improving it by the budget he has sent Congress this year, and I serve on the Defense Subcommittee on Appropriations and we are bound and determined to rebuild our military and strengthen our existing soldiers and their ability to serve, make sure they are the best trained, the best supplied in the world and make sure pay and benefits are equal to the sacrifices they are making.
And I believe in that, that’s what I believe. If I stand for anything in Washington, I stand for that.
Question 7, Anita wants to know about tax relief for an upper middle class person like herself.
Carter: All of the tax bracket are going down and so, as far as I know, if you’re in the 35 percent bracket now, you should probably be down in 20, 25 percent, which will be very substantial …
Also lowering our corporate taxes to where they are competitive internationally.
Question 8 comes from a teacher worried about education reform, “because I see it’s the drastic changes that just usually upset the apple cart.”
Carter: The congressman said there will be a debate about vouchers but, I believe in our district we have great public schools. I don’t have any complaint about our public schools at all and so, from the standpoint of the 31st District of Texas, I’m very confident that all of our schools … are very competitive in well educating our children.
Sometimes, he said, there may be a few too many administrators.
I wouldn’t be too worried.
For Question 9 Kay wanted to know more about plans for the border.
Carter: I’m directly involved in securing the border because I’m the guy whose chairman of the committee that will provide the funds for the border.
I met today with three of President Obama’s (sic) top people …
We are going to secure the southern border and it’s a tough job, but the president is dedicated, and we put out for bids Friday of last week for people to give proposals both using a concrete wall up to 30 feet high and other materials in the wall or the barrier. And we put money for people to do demonstration projects and we’re asking people for rapid response so we’re expecting to see something we can actually look at and use by this summer and basically the work will be most rapid construction meeting the criteria we need.
There are some weakness of the cement wall, and that is you can’t see through it. And so they are talking about double fencing with one wall being cement and one being see-through with a roadway down the middle, the see-through being nearest to the border, the other kind of a barrier right on the edge of the flood plain.
All that is a top priority. That will all be funded in my ’17 appropriation bill. We are going to put up barriers where barriers will work and they will be impressive. So I’m very about excited the fact that the president is personally and actively involved because I’ve been working to trying to get this stuff for the last eight years with the people we had there and there was no hope to do any of this. So we certainly have the will now. I look for a secure border. We’re going to have one.
Question 10 was about selling health insurance across state lines and bringing down prescription drug prices.10.
On selling across state lines: Yes, thinks that will be accomplished by year’s end.
On bringing drug prices down, he said the president has said he will negotiate to accomplish that and, I believe him. So far he has proven, everything he said he’s going to do, he’s got an amazing amount of it done just because he believes it and he does it. Sometimes he upsets people, but he still does it.
Question 11, from Angela, was about religious freedom and Christians being under attack from the Obama administration and the courts.
Carter: All of us who are Christian – and I am a Christian raised in the church and in fact go to Bible study every Wednesday morning here in Washington with Catholics and Protestants both – we’re all concerned about some of these rulings.
One of things the president is already showing is he is putting a constitutionalist before the Senate right now and if you follow the Constitution of the United States – the people have a misconception of what the Constitution says about religion. It’s to protect us from the government, but there have been some screwy rulings in the court system….
I think those days are clearly going to be coming to an end. The president clearly has spoken about it.
One of the reasons we’re seeing so many people with optimism, when the president says he’s going to do something, he does it, and he does it if he has to fight with every media in America. He doesn’t care. He does it anyway.
And he has said he is not going to let people abuse Christians.
In fact, one of the things people attacked him on was on his travel ban, they said he was trying to be pro-Christian on that travel ban, and they were attacking him on that issue – the media and the previous administration. So he’s already shown his colors by what he put in that previous travel ban … because he used language about giving priority to persecuted Christians, which, by the way, in the rest of the world. Christians are being persecuted, but in particular in the Middle East.
And that’s just a fact whether people like it or not. It’s the truth. I think you are going to find we have an administration and a Congress that’s going to be very favorable to allowing you to freely exercise your faith without the government getting all over you about it.
Question 12 was bout property-taking to build the wall.
Carter: From Day 1, when we started talking about building anything on the border, I’ve been trying to preach, and I’ve kind of got the White House and the Justice Department and other people to realize, that Texas is a very peculiar state, a very blessed state, because when we came into the Union we retained our public lands. That means land in Texas belongs to somebody because other states came in with other provisions, The federal government owned all the land that didn’t belong to somebody at the time they came into the Union … the public lands belonged to the federal government.
The original colonies, 13 of them, kept their lands because they were sort of independent before they came into the Union.
Now Texas, we came in where Texas owns its public lands. So all that land along the river, along the border down there are owned by people and corporations. It’s private property. The only federal property along the river is the Big Bend National Park and Texas sold that land to the United State for a park. Whereas in Arizona, New Mexico and California, the land along the border of the United States. It’s called the Roosevelt Corridor. Franklin Roosevelt made sure there was a corridor along the border that was federal land, so when they’re building a wall or a fence in Arizona they’re building it on land owned by the federal government. If they’re building a wall in Texas it means they are building on private land, which means it’s harder, a lot harder to do that.
We’ve already built some wall in the Rio Grand Valley. It’s a very smart project because in addition to being a barrier to stop illegal immigration and illegal drug-running, we also needed flood control. So the wall that was built in Hidalgo County is a levee, which is a 12-foot wall on top of a levee, both cement and steel and a grass levee, which does both flood control and immigration and drug interdiction control. That’s a good idea and the public down there supports that law and that will probably be part of what we do in Texas, at least in the valley …
We will definitely be in the barrier and wall business and I think we are going to do some great things. But we do have to deal with private property and if people don’t want to sell it to us, eminent domain will go into effect, which will mean going to into court. But that is how we protect an individual’s right to property in this country.
The 13th and last question was quickly asked and answered.