Zeldin Holds Telephone Town Hall


Congressman Lee Zeldin.

By Stephen J. Kotz

U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin, who like other Republican congressmen, has come under criticism for refusing to meet face-to-face with constituents who do not agree with his positions, on Thursday sought to bridge that gap by holding a telephone town hall meeting.

The congressman’s office said approximately 100,000 1st Congressional District households were called to take part in the event, and that 9,116 people listened in.

About a dozen people were able to ask questions during the session, which lasted a little longer than an hour. Those questions ranged from concerns about the future of the Affordable Care Act to complaints about the medical care offered by the Veterans Administration. The questions were interspersed with five polls that sought to gauge respondents’ concerns on issues including the performance so far of President Donald J. Trump, to whether the Affordable Care Act should be scrapped, replaced, or repaired.

So far, Mr. Zeldin’s office has only released the result of the first poll question, which asked respondents to name the issue that was most important to them. Health care was the top choice, at 23 percent, while 18 percent of participants cited the environment, 16 percent named immigration and border security, and 11 percent picked taxes.

In a statement, Mr. Zeldin’s communications director Jennifer DiSiena described the telephone town hall meeting as “a perfect example of an outreach effort with the public that has proven to be extremely effective.”

“It’s a modern way to bring a town hall directly to the constituents’ home and the congressman has been doing this for years approximately quarterly since he was in the State Senate,” she continued.

She repeated a criticism that “liberal obstructionists” had made it pointless to schedule live town hall meetings by “creating mass disruptions at public events for their own political theater.”

She noted that Mr. Zeldin would hold mobile office hours on Friday, March 3, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Hagerman Fire Department at 510 Oakdale Avenue in Patchogue. During mobile office hours, “constituents can sit down with either the congressman or a staff member for a one-on-one conversation,” she said, adding that appointments are not required and walk-ins are welcome.

During Thursday’s phone-in session, Mr. Zeldin began with a review of his agenda to strengthen America’s military, provide more secure borders, repair its failing infrastructure, improve health care and education, overhaul the tax code, and protect the environment.

He said “improving health care will be a top concern” and promised the Affordable Care Act would be replaced with “a new reality that will work better and make health care more affordable while continuing to cover people with pre-existing conditions and allow children to stay on their parents’ policy.”

A caller who identified herself as Tina asked how Congress “will make sure my lower middle class family can afford health insurance, especially since my job doesn’t supply it.” Another caller named Nancy asked what is the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.

Mr. Zeldin assured Tina that “no one wants to pull the rug out from anyone who is covered,” but soon segued into a discussion of the cost of health care in New York State, while adding it would lose up to $1 billion in Medicaid payments if the ACA were repealed outright. To the second question about a replacement, Mr. Zeldin responded that when Congress takes up a budget reconciliation bill, some steps will be made to strip funding from the act. After that, the Department of Health and Human Services will begin to release new rules, and finally any steps required for full repeal will be taken up by additional legislation.

A caller named Joe criticized the president for failing to condemn the rise of anti-Semitism and having “given the wink” to white supremacists, such as Steve Bannon, his chief strategist.

Mr. Zeldin agreed that the president’s statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day should have included a recognition of the price Jews paid under Adolf Hitler, but added he believed Mr. Trump would learn from his mistake. “I want our president to be successful,” he said. “It’s going to be very important for him to be able to learn from the early days of his administration.”

Joe also asked if Mr. Zeldin supported a recent executive order, allowing coal companies to dump mining waste in streams. The congressman said he did, saying the Obama administration had overstepped its bounds by imposing too many regulations on business.

Meredith wanted to know how the congressman could support concealed carry gun legislation, and Mr. Zeldin responded, “I strongly support our second amendment,” adding that the Justice Department was not doing a good job prosecuting cases in which people, who failed background checks, are illegally trying to obtain firearms.

To Ashley, who said climate change was a top priority, Mr. Zeldin said, “I don’t care if you are the most liberal Democrat or the most conservative Republican, we all want clean air and water.” He added that it is important for bipartisan efforts to proposed ways to protect the environment.

A caller named Rachel said her brother, who was wounded in Iraq, had been given the runaround by the Veterans Administration in terms of scheduling treatment and procedures. Mr. Zeldin said he was confident changes would be coming to make the VA more accountable. He added that he would “support our vets being able to go anywhere they could to get the health care at no cost” by being allowed to use their veterans benefits at any health care provider of their choosing.

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