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The Eagle - Rep. Flores takes questions during tele-town hall

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BRYAN, April 19, 2017 | comments
By Kaitlin Clark

Amid discussing topics ranging from immigration to climate change to Russian involvement in the presidential election, one of the easier questions U.S. Rep. Bill Flores fielded during his tele-town hall Tuesday came from a caller who asked, "Why aren't you here?"

Cheers were audible in the background of the call from the Texas A&M Hillel Center, where members of the TX-17 Indivisible Bryan/College Station group had gathered. The problem with the Republican congressman's decision to hold a town hall via telephone, the caller said, is that Flores wouldn't get a good idea of where constituents stand without being in the room with them. Flores, taking questions from callers and Facebook from behind a desk, replied that 2,348 people were on the line at that moment. He found the new format for a series of town hall meetings this week --- a call-in radio town hall will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday on WTAW-AM -- to be the best way to "reach across the breadth" of his 17th Congressional District.

On Facebook Live, where the town hall was broadcast, a flurry of angry response emojis floated across the screen. But in one of the poll questions typical of Flores' public meetings, 53 percent of those who participated said they prefer tele-town halls to in-person meetings.

Flores said he answered both "layup" questions and tougher ones, even occasionally reading negative comments -- "Somebody says I'm lying. Sorry, I'm not" -- that peppered Facebook during the live broadcast.

Climate change was ranked highest in a poll question that asked participants what they think is the most important issue facing the United States. A caller from Austin asked Flores what steps he would take to protect Texas from the "very real dangers" of climate change.

"I agree we all want to protect the environment, we all want to protect the country for our kids and our grandkids from climate change," Flores said. "The questions are, how you go about doing it? And two, what impact does it have? And three, what are the economic implications of what you're doing?"

Flores described himself as "kind of a geek about this stuff," even saying he's the largest producer of residential solar power in Brazos County and saved the environment from 2.7 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. And while Flores said he does his part because he has the interest and financial ability, he doesn't think those costs ought to be put on the "entire economy." Though he didn't give any specific suggestions on how to handle climate change, Flores said the country should avoid taking a "hyper-aggressive" approach that could cause economic disruptions.

Several questions related to President Donald Trump, including the Tax Day-specific query of whether Flores thinks the president should release his tax returns (he won't be asking for it) and his thoughts as a fiscal conservative on Trump's Mar-a-Lago trips (if they're "very expensive," it's up to "people like me" to ask him to reconsider).

Also in response to a Facebook user who said they were "scared our country's been infiltrated by Russians," Flores touched on investigations into Russian hacking in the presidential election.

"I'm quite frankly chapped that they ... have been involved in this activity," Flores said. Though Flores said information he could share from reports he's read indicates Russia had no impact on the outcome of the election, he's upset the federal government did not find out about the hacking sooner and has several questions he hopes can be answered by the House and Senate intelligence committees' reports.

In response to a caller's question about immigration policy and a potential path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, Flores said he's against Trump's plans to build a border wall.

"In some cases, my party and I are not necessarily on the same page on this," Flores said.

 

On immigration issues, Flores said he's against sanctuary cities and in favor of cutting off their federal funding. But when it comes to immigration more broadly, Flores said securing the border can be done without a wall via aerial assets, "boots on the ground" and various technologies. The visa tracking and enforcement system also needs to be fixed, Flores said, suggesting a demand-based system for certain labor sectors be set up.

Flores added that there are some different policy options he thinks could be used to address people who are already residing in the country illegally, such as a registration process that could involve a potential visa for adults, who could eventually earn a permanent visa after meeting certain provisions, and a path to permanent legal status for their children. 

Another popular topic was health care, with one caller asking if Flores would commit to “supporting all Americans having access to affordable and adequate-quality healthcare.” 

Flores, who is in favor of repealing the Affordable Care Act , said he does want America have an environment and infrastructure in place where all citizens have access to high-quality health care, but “whether they choose to take it or not is up to them.” Flores circled back to healthcare on questions related to tax reform, saying healthcare form has to be done first.

Flores said he thinks there’s about a 50 percent chance repeal and replacement of the ACA can be accomplished using reconciliation, a legislative process.

To watch the full video of Flores’ tele-town hall, visit his Facebook page, www.facebook.com/RepBillFlores.


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