Pennsylvania Townhalls

Class 3, incumbent: Toomey
This is a transcription of the 3/7/2017 Social Media Conversation with Senator Pat Toomey, hosted by CBS. The event can be viewed here.

0:42 ENGAGEMENT: When will you hold a live town hall?
2:42 CRONYISM: Why didn't you recuse yourself from DeVos vote?
4:05 TRUMP: Do you support an independent investigation into Russia ties?
6:20 TRUMP: Will you ask Attorney General Sessions to resign?
7:30 HEALTHCARE: What do you plan to do with the ACA?
12:16 EDUCATION: Why do you support for-profit charter schools?
13:25 TRUMP: Are you going to be a rubber stamp for Donald Trump?
14:35 Toomey Closing Message

Jessica Dean: Good afternoon everyone, I'm Jessica Dean. We want to thank you for joining us on Facebook and CBS

A lot of you have been reaching out to us since President Trump took office, asking to hear from Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey regarding questions and concerns about the new administration. We've been in contact with the Senator's office for the last month requesting he sit down for an interview and a live talk back via social media, and today Senator Toomey is here to do just that. Senator Toomey, welcome.

Senator Pat Toomey: Thank you, thanks for having me Jessica.

DEAN: We're happy to have you here and we want to say "hi" to everyone on Facebook Live, we hope that you guys will be submitting your questions. Senator Toomey is here to answer what questions you may have.

And I want to get started, we've also been taking questions over the weekend on my Facebook page and on the CBS Philly Facebook page. And overwhelmingly, one of the questions we got, this is from Fran, she really expresses what a lot of people said. When will he hold a live town meeting in Philly? With that now down we can ask our questions ourselves. Megan: When will you host a real town hall, especially one with enough notice that real Pennsylvanians can plan their schedule and engage with you.

And what I think they're getting at when they say "real," it was about a face-to-face meeting in Philadelphia. When do you plan to do that?

TOOMEY: Yeah, I don't have a date set, I mean I'm sure we'll do one at some point. I've done more in-person town hall meetings than any other elected Pennsylvania official that I know of. I will tell you since we're in Washington usually five days a week, most weeks out of the month, there's not that many opportunities.

But one thing that I have done, I've continued to do, I think I've done 48 telephone town halls. Which is actually a terrific venue. We've had over 20 thousand people, either on the phone or listening to the audio stream, and we get to take questions, it's live, everybody gets to hear.

And, you know, we address the questions that are on peoples' minds. They're often unfriendly and hostile questions and that's fair because people have a wide range of opinions. And that's a good forum.

So the important thing is for me to be communicating in two directions. With constituents, we do a huge amount of that - phone calls, e-mail, physical mail, telephone town halls, and I'm sure we'll do an in-person town hall at some point.

DEAN: In Philadelphia?

TOOMEY: Probably.

DEAN: But no date right now? And do you understand a lot of people, also two things, does he understand that we want to talk to him in person, do you get that there is that different level of communication in terms of, if I'm here with you versus on a phone?

TOOMEY: I understand there's a lot of people who definitely prefer that. So that's fine.

DEAN: Alright, let's move on, Miranda writes in: Betsy DeVos was a contentious candidate. Her lack of public education experience and excessive contributions to the Republican party suggest that she was basically buying her position. An outpouring of your citizens requested that you not vote for her, or for you to recuse yourself from the vote since DeVos donated to you. Why did you not recuse yourself from the vote, considering the DeVos donation?

(Full question as posted on Facebook: "Betsy DeVos was an extremely contentious candidate. Her lack of public education experience and excessive contributions to the Republican Party suggests that she was basically buying her position. An out pouring of your citizens requested you not vote for her or to recuse yourself from the vote since DeVos donated 60,500 to you. Why did you not recuse yourself from this vote considering DeVos donations to yourself?")

TOOMEY: There's absolutely no reason to recuse myself from the vote whatsoever.

So the reason that I'm an enthusiastic supporter of Betsy DeVos is, I think we need to create more options, especially for lower income families. You know, if you're a wealthy family, then you can send your kid to a private school, you can go to a very affluent community that has great public schools, you've got choices.

But if it's a poor kid, whether in the inner city or anywhere else, that family typically has no choices and often the school isn't serving the child well. Sometimes it is, in which case the parents will be thrilled with that. But when it's not, I think there should be another choice for that child. A child only gets one chance to get a great education.

Betsy DeVos has dedicated a tremendous amount of her adult life to creating more opportunities for more kids who don't have a choice in education. I totally agree with that. And that's why I'm an enthusiastic supporter of her. And by the way, a lot of my constituents reached out to me and urged me to support Betsy DeVos, too.


DEAN: Alright, Rosalind Holzman says, or asks rather, Do you support an independent investigation - with subpoena power - to probe the ties between Trump, his campaign, his cabinet members and Russia?

TOOMEY: Yes, so this is a really important issue. What do we know from the discussion from the intelligence community? We know that the Russians were trying to disrupt, influence the American election campaign. That shouldn't be shocking, Russians do this routinely because they understand at some level they've been losing the P.R. war about their system and people recognize that we've got a better system of government. So they try to discredit our system.

There's no question that they were involved to some degree in this past election. I absolutely want to know exactly what went on. Who did what? We should know all about the communications that occurred, if any, between the Trump campaign and the Russian officials. There are investigations under way. The ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, has indicated he is confident that the Senate Intelligence Committee can get to the bottom of this, which it should do.

There's a lot we should learn about this. You know, we learned about General Flynn having communications with a Russian official, and then he was dishonest about it so he was effectively fired, as he should have been. We should also want to know, how is it that the intelligence community ever discovered that in the first place, since it is illegal for them to spy on an American. And then we should also want to know, how and by whom was that leaked, since that's classified information.

So there's a lot that we need to learn in this space, and at this point I remain confident that the Senate Intelligence Committee can get to the bottom of it. That's a bipartisan investigation, leadership on both sides of the aisle have indicated their confidence with that process. That's where I am right now and let's see where it leads.

DEAN: So you're confident they can do it, no need in your opinion, at this point, for an independent investigation?

TOOMEY: No, I don't think we need an outside entity or special prosecutor or anything like that. The FBI has done its probe and our Intelligence Committee can do it.

DEAN: Alright, we're getting some questions in via Facebook Live I want to ask. To that end somewhat, Shawn David wants to know if you would ask Attorney General Sessions to resign, at this point.

TOOMEY: There's no reason for Attorney General Sessions to resign, in my view. I've looked at the actual interview and I've looked at the transcript. (Transcriber note: linked article contains video of the interview and a transcript.) His testimony when Al Franken asked him about contact with Russians, in my mind, is very clear that he was answering the question in the context of the campaign activity. And so, in that sense, he did not intend to mislead anyone, I don't believe.

I know Jeff Sessions very well, I know he's a very honest man, a very fair minded guy. I think he recused himself out of an abundance of caution, I don't think he had any legal obligation to recuse himself, but his advisers and he looked at it and said certainly he was a spokesman for the campaign. He was described as a surrogate and he was close to the Trump campaign and therefore people could have the impression that he might not be impartial if there were an investigation. So he recused himself, I think that was a prudent thing to do. I see absolutely no reason why he needs to resign.

DEAN: Alright, this question comes to us from Andrea Tsurumi, I believe is how you say her last name. Senator Toomey, what are the actual details of what the Republicans plan to do with the Affordable Care Act? She has a couple of questions, I'll start with that because these are big questions and a big answer.

(Full question as posted on Facebook: "Senator Toomey, what are the actual details of what the Republicans plan to do to the ACA? And importantly, if you won't speak to those now - when will you? What definite date will you set to talk to your voters about the ACA plan? It's spring 2017, the insurers are meeting right now to decide what they're going to do next year, and what happens to the ACA determines what happens to me and my small business. When will we get a clear and specific answer from you? - Philly constituent (19130). Thank you for taking q's, Jessica.")

TOOMEY: Yeah, it's a lot, let me try to distill it down to a few really, really important big things. First thing that people should understand, in my view, I'm not sure there's been any issue that's been more thoroughly adjudicated through our political system. We've had four federal elections since Obamacare was passed, and in every one, with the possible exception of 2012, the people have spoken very clearly. This is not the direction they want to go.

More importantly, it's classic. The individual insurance market is in a death spiral, it's a free fall, insurers are pulling out. Forty percent of Pennsylvanians have a grand total of one choice. That's no choice when you have only one choice. And that's on the individual exchange where you're supposed to have a lot of choices.

So what do we do? First of all we're going to carry through on our commitment to the American people that we're going to repeal Obamacare. The other thing everyone should understand, if we vote tomorrow on the repeal, the actual implementation, the actual effective date will be two or three years down the road. We're not going to pull the rug out from under anyone, right. Someone who was complying with the law that required them to go out and buy insurance, and because of the way that the law was crafted it's affordable so they had to get a subsidy... we're not going to bring an end to that overnight.

DEAN: And there were people to that end who were very concerned about that, that it would go away immediately.

TOOMEY: Understandably so, right. That would be unreasonable, I said that during the campaign and I'm saying it right now again, we will not pull the rug out from under anyone. So what will we do? What we want to do is first try to stabilize the individual market which is collapsing. And several efforts are underway to have a stable market which we don't have today.

The second thing we've got to figure out is how do we deal with the expansion of Medicaid which some states participated in and others states did not. We've got to resolve that, and that's gonna be a, you know, a negotiated agreement.

And we've got to make sure that people who have chronic, expensive healthcare needs, pre-existing conditions or conditions that develop. Those are very, very expensive, we all know that. Most people can not afford, and if you have a child that has cystic fibrosis, or you develop a complex cancer, or something, those people need help with their insurance. And you need a mechanism that's going to be responsive to that.

So we're in the process of developing that. I think a high risk pool is the best way to help these people. We're in the process of developing what we can pass now, unfortunately we have to do it without any help from our Democratic colleagues. They've made it very clear they're not going to vote for anything that helps deal with this. So we are a little bit limited, legislatively.

But what we're going to do is a combination of what we can do legislatively, what we can do administratively, what the Trump administration can do administratively, to have a stable transition to a much more consumer driven market, where patients get to decide what their insurance looks like.

DEAN: OK, and Stacie Paulsen Chandler is on Facebook Live, she wants to know what aspects of the Affordable Care Act you feel are valuable and worth preserving when the Republicans dismantle healthcare is what she asked.

TOOMEY: Well there's, some of the goals are sensible goals. So for instance, covering pre-existing conditions as I mentioned. Someone has expensive, chronic healthcare needs, most people in that category can't afford it, it's very, very expensive. And so you have to have a way to deal with that. Obamacare dealt with it in one peculiar fashion, which was the guaranteed issue mechanism and heavily regulating the insurance sector, and it hasn't worked. It's failed.

I want to solve that problem a different way. The way I want to solve it is have people who have these expensive, chronic health problems, put them in a pool where insurers then compete to cover them. We provide the subsidy that is needed because it's otherwise unaffordable, and leave the ordinary marketplace to serve the vast majority of the people who are not in that category.

DEAN: And then also back to Andrea's question, she wanted to know also about a timeline. When do you think this is going to be happening?

TOOMEY: So I think the vote to have the repeal and begin the movement in another direction could happen as soon as this month. But the actual transition will begin two or three years from now because it's going to take some time for these reforms, for an alternative, for a different market place that's much more responsive to patients and consumers. That won't occur overnight, we recognize that, so that will take a little longer.

DEAN: We're wrapping up in terms of timing here, but I want to get as many in here as we can. So I'm going to continue forward. Meg O'Brien Basilio: Senator Toomey can you explain your support of for-profit charter schools rather than appropriately fund public schools, in light of the ability of charter schools to select, turn away students, and close without notice?

(Full question as posted on Facebook: "Senator Toomey can you explain your support of for-profit charter schools rather than appropriately fund public schools, in light of the ability of charter schools to select, turn away students, and close without notice? What data is driving your support? Are you not committed to providing a free appropriate education to all students?")

TOOMEY: You know, I just think that kids ought to be able to choose from among a lot of different competing models. Think about how we treat higher education, right? At college, we don't say here's a Pell grant, you can use it as long as you go to the nearest college to your house. We don't say anything of the sort. You can go to any college in America. You can go to a public university, you can go to a private college, you can go to a for-profit college, there's a wide, wide range and that ends up serving students really, really well.

I just think that that model will work well in primary and secondary, the difference of course is in primary and secondary education it will be the parents who will be making that decision, as they should, for their kids. Nobody cares more about a child than the child's parents, and empowering them to choose among different schools including the public school system, that's going to lead to better outcomes for kids.

DEAN: Alright, Rick Sorenson writes in, you said at the beginning of the Trump presidency you would not be a rubber stamp for Donald Trump and I remember you telling me that, we talked about it, and yet, he says, you have done nothing but approve any and all of his appointments and agenda. When are you going to take a position, any position, that does not show you as anything but a rubber stamp for Donald Trump?

TOOMEY: So a few things, for one we haven't had a single vote in Congress on any item of a Trump agenda. There's been no legislation, the legislation we have voted on has all been created, initiated, driven by the House and the Senate. As far as the nominees, you know I voted to confirm three quarters of Barack Obama's nominees that came before me when I was in the Senate. Because I think a president really ought to get a lot of latitude in assembling his or her team.

So as it happens I've been very comfortable with President Trump's nominees, his cabinet, I think it's a very good cabinet. I've been happy to support them. I have disagreed with the President publicly when I thought, for instance, that his immigration order went way too far, and I said so. I'm going to be an independent voice and we're going to inevitably have differences, myself and President Trump, and when we do people will hear about it.

DEAN: Alright, before we go, is there any message you'd like to give to your constituents now, anything you'd like to say to them?.

TOOMEY: Well I would just say, I think there's a big, big opportunity for us to do two big things. One is to really get this economy roaring again, and we could have tremendous economic growth. That would depend on rolling back the excessive regulation of recent years, and pro-growth tax reform that I think is within reach. At the same time, I think there's a big opportunity to enhance our security, both domestically and around the world, and those are the two things I'm focused on.

DEAN: Alright, Senator Pat Toomey, thanks for being with us, we appreciate it, and we want to say thank you for joining us, also to Senator Toomey, thank you again. And all of you who have taken part online, we're going to have more on this conversation with the Senator starting on eyewitness news at 5 PM, we will see you then. And thank you to all of you who tuned in, we appreciate you.

This from a transcription of the 3/7/2017 Social Media Conversation with Senator Pat Toomey hosted by CBS. The text has been lightly edited for clarity. Please e-mail with any corrections.

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District Keywords: Pennsylvania Representative to United States Senate Class 3, PatToomey

Facebook Live page for the event:
CBS Philly Facebook post soliciting questions:
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CBS Philly coverage of event:

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