I didn’t call my U.S. representative today about the GOP healthcare bill, despite the many email urgings I’ve received on the topic. Rep. Pete Sessions, as chair of the House Rules Committee, helped write the damn thing. We must use our energy where it might make a difference, and calling his office isn’t it going to, IMHO. I’ll tweet my condolences instead.
I did, however, spend some time with Mr. Sessions over the weekend. After taking the previous week off to spend spring break with my family, I had a personal #WokeSaturday and caught up on all things political. I started the day at a breakfast/town hall meeting in downtown Dallas with State Senator (and Democrat) Royce West. I learned a lot and will get to that in later post. It was like getting together with your BFFs — all in agreement, inside jokes (although we were all strangers), and bacon. What’s not to love?
I left that town hall early to get to the Sessions’ gathering 20 minutes north. Although it was supposed to start at 12:30 pm, it was suggested we arrive at 11 am to make sure we got a seat (even if we’d RSVPed and were in his district; check and check). A friend and I got there about 11:30 — with our usual snowflake gear of protest signs and Starbucks — and joined the very long line that went around the local high school.
I’ve seen signs for Pete Sessions around my neighborhood for years. I knew he was a Republican. That about ends my involvement with my U.S. representative before November 9. I didn’t know Sessions, chairman of the U.S. House Rules committee, was one of the main authors of the Trumpcare (we’re going to call it that because I’m convinced we’re still having this discussion because of the Obamacare nickname).
I was appalled to learn at some point in the last few months that Sessions, who has been in office for two decades, was not opposed by a Democratic in November 2016. NOT. OPPOSED. Unopposed by someone of a major party, Sessions won just 71.1% of his district — a district that voted for HRC in November. Apparently, that won’t happen again in 2018.
Yes, we’re in Texas. But I don’t think the man should be cocky.
My immediate response to Mr. Sessions was one of empathy. During the almost two-hour town hall, he faced a hostile audience that was clearly against everything he came to say and was in little mood to listen. He lost me with a few snarky statements:
“Everybody in here should be proud of themselves for coming today. I want you to be proud of me that we agreed to do this.” What? After weeks of pressure you showed up … um … to do your job?
“The media will have its story to tell about this,” or something sort of like that. The journalist in me requires I admit I couldn’t find video to back this quote up. But it felt like a threat, like something I’ve said to my boys as they walked out the door with the car keys on a Friday night: “Make good choices because I’m not bailing you out of jail.” Sessions actually wagged his finger at us at times.
“It’s obvious to me that if we continue this, no member of Congress will want to meet with people,” hand on hip, statement followed by disapproving shake of his head, an all-knowing nod of his head, and a motion to the PPT person to get to the next slide. The crowd — myself included — reminded him who hired whom: “Do your job!”
“You know what? I now understand why you’re so frustrated. You don’t know how to listen.” I’ve used this tone — probably over spring break — with my teenagers. Doesn’t work with them either, but at least the chain of command is understood.
Another interesting fact he shared: All the benefits of Obamacare will stay in effect for two years (or would have if Trumpcare had passed today). Interesting, that gets us through the 2018 mid-terms. Coincidence?
Sessions started with PowerPoints, which were intended to connect the ACA to slow economic growth in the U.S. He planned this smartly, knowing he wouldn’t be able to talk above the crowd. He wanted to be heard and knew this crowd wasn’t going to let him talk much. He was right. So he used the PowerPoints, a microphone, and questions that came only in written format (either emailed in or written as people signed into the event). There was no back and forth, and perhaps a forum of 2,000 mostly angry people isn’t the right forum for that anyway.
Regardless, he wanted to be heard. He was not there to listen.
I would say the same about the crowd, which launched into a few cringe-worthy chants, including, “This plan sucks.” They wanted to be heard. And this forum allowed no respectful way to be heard. I started out embarrassed by the yelling. By the end, my throat was sore from joining in.
I was there primarily to listen and observe. But yes, I — and close to 2,000 others — also wanted to be heard. It’s hard to listen when you know you won’t be heard.
I wanted to know whether Sessions would force the issue on Trump’s tax returns — and have him hear my thoughts on the subject. When the question was asked (via email), I cheered and held up my “AGREE” sign. Sessions paused for an uncomfortable amount of time. The crowd soon began asking “Yes or no?” Twenty-four seconds later, Sessions had this answer: “The president and vice president … [crowd interrupts] … the president and the vice president, as is required by law, are being audited as we speak [crowd loses its mind, then another awkward pause] … and I would expect that they will release the same information that any other president has ever released.”
That didn’t answer the question. So we chanted, “Answer the question.” Multiple times.
Other moments from the town hall:
• It opened with a woman who opposed Trumpcare at the microphone. Applause.
• Sessions doesn’t think we need to build a wall through Big Bend National Park. Applause.
• He wants to increase funding to NIH. Applause.
• Meals on Wheels should not — and will not — be defunded. Applause.
• Unemployed people will get tax credits under Trumpcare. And he’s disappointed you would be “mean” enough to ask.
• Solid no on marijuana. Boos. And, he wanted us to know, he’s never smoked pot.
• Sessions pinned his support for school vouchers on disabled students, understandably so (one of his sons has Down Syndrome).
• Sanctuary cities will be defunded. Boos.
• Russia interference with our elections? “No credible evidence.” Seriously?
• Veterans who have previously been deemed unable to get a gun (missing an eye or suffering a brain injury) now can go through a process to allow them to do so, allowing them to hunt and fish with their buddies. Makes some sense. Crowd wasn’t overly reactive either way.
• What does Sessions think about Trump’s “incessant lying” and Steve Bannon’s appointment: “My answer is even Fox News is able to question that what the president says and has vetted it pretty well. And at some point, I don’t write his speeches. And I think it’s intuitively obvious to the most casual observer when things are not right. That’s part of what the media does when they talk about credible evidence or lack thereof.”
Um, what was the answer to that question?
“What do YOU say?” the crowd chanted.
• When asked an over-the-top question about elderly genocide with Trumpcare, Sessions had this answer: “We are going to make the changes. We are going to pass the bill. And we’re going to appeal Obamacare.” Crowd loses mind, then chants “Vote him out!” That was a little awkward but dude, read the crowd. Listen. Respond like a human being.
• Sessions doesn’t think Scott Pruitt’s drastic EPA cuts are necessary or will fly. Applause. (But the EPA shouldn’t issue its own rules and regulations. Boos.)
Here are a few things I learned from reading up about the event and Mr. Sessions after the fact:
• Sessions represents 800,000 people in his gerrymandered district; 2,000+ of them showed up on Saturday and 600 people submitted questions.
• Sessions staffers described this as one of the “most contentious” town halls the representative has ever held.
• Sessions and his wife created this homespun video promoting “The World’s Greatest Healthcare Plan.” Let’s ignore that name and listen in:
I wondered if this was an anomaly. A friend, who has been politically active for years on the local and national level, describes Sessions’ previous town halls like this: “He was horrible, always rude and condescending to anyone who dared to ask a question he disagreed with. He even made fun of people. Of course the progressives weren’t the majority so he would encourage conservatives in the crowd. Horrible experience.”
I’m new at this, but I offer some advice for you, Mr. Sessions:
Talk to me like we are equals. Now, you may do that in person and this was a loud and opinionated crowd. But start out by telling me you are on Obamacare (which Congress has been required to be since January 2014). You say two of the best hospitals in Dallas aren’t on your plan? Tell me more about how this affects you as the father of two sons, one with special needs.
Talk to me. Don’t PowerPoint at me. Don’t shame me.
And I will do the same. Because everyone wants to be heard. And we all need to listen. Maybe you learned that lesson today on the House floor.