Unlike previous town hall events, Fletcher did not take questions from the floor.
Upon arrival, attendees were asked to write out questions on cards along with contact information. Staffers then selected questions to be answered publicly at the town hall, but advised that due to time constraints, the Congresswoman would respond to others directly at a later time.
Before taking questions, Fletcher reported on recent legislation and her new assignment as Chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy. She emphasized that despite last month’s impeachment proceedings, the House was still able to pass legislation, and at times along bipartisan lines.
Fletcher noted that her Hazard Eligibility and Local Projects, or HELP Act (H.R. 2548) had been co-sponsored by Representative Mark Meadows (R-NC-11) and had easily passed 409-7. She hopes the bill, which addresses delays in the start of recovery projects after natural disasters, will be carried by John Cornyn (R-TX) in the Senate.
She also mentioned that in December the House and Senate had passed the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA) and that the House had passed the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3).
Fletcher talked about her proposal to extend tax credits for vehicles using alternative fuels, and how her efforts to have the EPA issue guidance on minimizing the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS was included in the House-passed PFAS Action Act of 2019.
Questions selected for the town hall included inquiries about Social Security, flood recovery and prevention projects, infrastructure, climate change and energy, and healthcare issues.
When asked if she would support a Medicare-for-All plan, Fletcher said residents of her district did not support such plans, but did suggest actions to defend Obamacare, including supporting subsidies for the health care market.
Fletcher added that while she was “very open” to “some kind of public option,” many in her district want to keep the coverage they have.
“So, I think what we have to do is come up with a solution that addresses the desires and needs of people in our community who want to still have control over their healthcare choices.”
Fletcher also said the State of Texas should be encouraged to expand Medicaid, and that Congress should fully fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). She also lamented attacks on Obamacare, especially regarding coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.
“Before the Affordable Care Act, basically being a woman could be a preexisting condition, if you could have children… it was a pre-existing condition.”
The debate over so-called “preexisting conditions” protections (regulations technically referred to as guaranteed issue and community rating) has been at the center of the Obamacare debate since before the law’s passage and implementation. However, the claim that half of the population (women) could be classified as a preexisting condition is dubious at best.
The left-leaning Kaiser Family Foundation issued a study in 2019 showing that the total population of adults who could face coverage issues in the individual market without Obamacare’s preexisting condition mandates is some 54 million people or about 16 percent of the total U.S. population–a number far larger than the actual percentage of Americans who participate in the individual market (roughly 13 million people or 4 percent of the total U.S. population).
Several questions selected regarded climate change and energy issues.
While Fletcher agreed with one constituent that the 2018 IPCC report on climate change “is very alarming” and believes action is necessary, she cautioned that energy demands were increasing around the world.
She noted that there are more new coal-fired power plants under construction in China than there are operating in the entire United States.
Here, she said, emissions already had been significantly reduced by moving from coal-fired to natural gas-fired power plants, and that we should encourage other nations to transition to natural gas for power generation, but also suggested that more federal spending was needed for research and innovation.
Regarding a proposed carbon tax, Fletcher answered, “I did not sign on to the legislation the Citizens Climate Lobby advocates, but I think there’s a lot of merit.”
Fletcher also emphasized the importance of finding common ground on these issues and warned that some of the political discourse was too divisive. She emphasized the importance of understanding the science of energy, and recognizing that there are not renewable energy sources currently available to replace all oil and gas products and functions.
Fletcher’s staff did bring forward one audience member who had an impeachment-related question. The woman read from Fletcher’s press release citing faith in the Constitution and in an “America, of, by, and for the people,” and asked Fletcher what she meant by those words.
Saying she and all members of Congress and administration represent the people, Fletcher asserted that the fundamental question was “whether anyone is above the law.”
Fletcher said she voted for Article I because it was clear to her that the president had abused his office in relation to Ukrainian aid, and for Article II because Congress had a right to ask questions and receive answers.
Most of the audience applauded Fletcher’s comments on impeachment, but several were dissatisfied with the town hall forum.
At the conclusion, one man called out, “Why didn’t the invitation indicate that this was a Democrats-only meeting? I didn’t hear from any Republicans. My question wasn’t available!”
“Let me make clear this is not a Democrats-only meeting,” Fletcher replied, and added she would be happy to talk to him and welcomed constituents of all parties.
“If you feel like questions representing your point of weren’t answered, I apologize.”
Richard Feller, who had complained about “a Democrats only meeting,” told The Texan that while he wanted to commend Fletcher on some legislation, he objected to her support for a coin honoring President George H.W. Bush, since the former president had led the U.S. into war.
Feller added that he disagreed with Fletcher’s impeachment votes, and while he had not voted for Trump in the previous presidential election, he planned to vote to re-elect the president in 2020. As for whether he would vote for Fletcher or the winner of the Republican Primary for CD-7, Feller said he did not yet know.
Another attendee, Jim Zabcik, also told The Texan that his questions were not selected but he had concerns on amnesty provisions in current legislation, and immigration and asylum policies.
Following the town hall, Rep. Fletcher spoke with The Texan about her upcoming re-election campaign.
Regarding some of the policy proposals offered by Democratic presidential candidates, Fletcher referred to the Democratic party as a big tent, but said she did not agree with some of the proposals.
“For me, the most important thing is listening to my constituents and doing a good job representing the community and establishing myself as an independent thinker.”
“Our district may have a different perspective to share that needs to be part of the dialogue, certainly when it comes to energy policy where I disagree with a lot of the presidential candidates. I’m here to represent my district, and I have an important voice in Congress and in the caucus that can really have an impact and that can really bring about the kinds of things we want to see here.
Fletcher said re-election issues would include continued work on health care, energy, and flood control. She said her committee is also authorizing a project to widen the Port of Houston, which will benefit both the local economy and the entire country.
During the town hall, Fletcher said that most constituent calls for most of the year had been in regard to guns until last month.
“There are a lot of folks who are responsible gun owners who understand how dangerous they are who are fans of safe storage, who are pro- background checks, who want just common sense reasonable measures to keep all of us safer,” Fletcher later told The Texan.
But over the last month, the number one constituent issue has been impeachment.
“Yeah, we’ve gotten a lot of calls on impeachment.”
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.