Casey discusses pollution, healthcare, and America’s involvement in Syria at town hall

Credit: Courtesy of Flickr Credit: Courtesy of Flickr

Recently, Congress has been on its April recess session, so many congressmen are holding town halls in their home states to take questions and hear concerns from their constituents. Bob Casey, the Democratic senator from Pennsylvania, was no exception. He has held a series of town halls in various locations in the state, including one last week at University of Pittsburgh’s Alumni Hall.

The town hall focused on three major themes — healthcare policy, environmental pollution concerns, and American involvement in Syria. Many voters were concerned about these issues and had strong feelings about them, which was evident by the number of questions about these topics.

One environmental concern that was brought up several times during the town hall was fracking. Casey supports fracking since he believes it creates jobs, is relatively clean (a thought which was met with many disagreeing signs), and enhances our national security by lessening our dependence on Middle Eastern oil. While he does believe that there should be regulations concerning the right of local residents to know what chemicals are used in fracking and that fracking must be consistent with state and federal rules, many attendees disagreed and thought that it would be better for Pennsylvania to end fracking for good.

There was a woman who told a story about how her health has spiraled downhill because of environmental pollution and how she is now concerned for her grandchildren. Casey thanked her for telling her story and said that we must hold parties accountable for pollution and introduce a budget to account for environmental issues — the Trump budget does not provide this. He mentioned that citizens concerned about the environment should support the Clean Power Plan and the overturning of the Citizens United case to lessen the influence of dark money in politics. He invited anyone with ideas to submit plans for an energy proposal that would be better than the current one. Throughout the town hall, he reiterated the theme of being vigilant and fighting back against the harmful policies that the far right has espoused.

Healthcare was another major theme, given that the GOP bill to overturn the Affordable Care Act (ACA) recently failed. Casey suggested that many Democrats got a false sense of security when the GOP bill failed, and reminded the attendees that the GOP has done nothing to actually improve the healthcare system. He reminded people that it was necessary to call out the GOP’s efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and turn Medicare into a voucher program, which he said was the fastest way to destroy Medicare, which many rural Pennsylvanians use. Casey also mentioned the ACA’s successes in increasing coverage rates, prohibiting the denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions, and prohibiting gender-based discrimination. In response to an attendee questioning him about why he doesn’t support Medicare for all, he mentioned a bill he and Bernie Sanders were co-sponsoring that would allow the importing of cheaper medicines from Canada, and said there should be a public option for Medicare.

The issue that seemed to divide the room was Syria. Casey said that while he believed President Trump’s strike on Assad’s military bases was an appropriate response to the horror of the chemical attack, the president must have a longer-term plan for the future of Syria that should not include ground troops. However, many in the room were fed up with U.S. intervention in the Middle East and saw it as yet another one of the mistakes Americans made in Iraq and Afghanistan, and thus disagreed with Casey’s position. Several protesters went through the room holding signs and chanting “No more war.” Casey did reiterate several times throughout the town hall, however, that there must be a debate in Congress over the use of military force on foreign countries, which he believed has been inappropriately lessened during both the current administration and the Obama administration.

There were a few questions relating to the peculiarities of the Trump administration as well. One voter expressed her concerns about the high costs of taxpayer-funded presidential security. This question resonated with a lot of the other attendees, as a wave of agree signs went up at the mention of these security costs. Casey responded by saying that while a president and his family are by law guaranteed Secret Service protection, he hoped that the administration would reexamine its budget priorities and not cut essential programs and services in the name of security.

Another question that drew applause was asked by a young girl, who was upset about the fact that President Trump wants to shut America’s door on Syrian refugees. Casey agreed with the girl’s words. He said that barring Syrian refugees does not make us any safer, and that it was unfair that people who had already undergone an extensive vetting process were suddenly being turned away.
In regards to the Russian investigation, Casey commanded the Republican senators who were making a serious effort at investigating any possible ties between Trump and Russia. He said he wishes that Trump would put out a statement saying that Russia must not interfere in our elections again, no matter whom they are trying to help.

There were also some concerns about how the Democratic Party would fare in future elections and about the lack of a strong central message from the party. Casey agreed, saying that the party has needed a stronger central message for a while as it moved away from the main economic and jobs focused message from several years ago. However, he emphasized the importance of stopping the most extreme parts of the GOP agenda from going forward in addition to creating this message.