After weeks of constituents demanding more access, Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey held an over-the-phone town hall from Washington D.C. on Thursday afternoon.
The call was announced on social media only about an hour in advance, and was held in the middle of a workday—something constituents noted with displeasure on social media. The teleconference came amid criticism from Trump's critics who have rallied outside Toomey's offices and jammed his telephone lines, pressing him to oppose Trump's nominees and agenda.
Over the approximately 45-minute call, Toomey took 11 questions and defended his support of President Donald Trump’s policy moves. He acknowledged the phone lines at his seven offices have been tied up over the last few weeks—mainly with people calling to comment on or complain about his recent votes.
First Q for Toomey: "Why do you not answer your phones?"
A: "We are doing our best to keep up with an unusually high call volume."
— Tom Fontaine (@FontainePGH) February 16, 2017
Toomey said he doesn’t think all the messages are from actual constituents, and said his staffers believe many people call from out of state.
“Those are organized, orchestrated efforts to block our phone systems,” he said.
Asked to back up the claim, a Toomey spokesman said when they receive calls, “staff generally ask constituents for their names and zip codes.” But “in many cases recently, the caller responds with an out-of-state zip code.”
Some said they don’t buy it. Kaitlin Mark-Dubbs of Montgomery County, who was on the call, said rhetoric like Toomey’s concerns her.
“His tactic of spinning it as a conspiracy glosses over how many of us have been calling as his real constituents, trying to make democracy happen,” she said.
Listen to the full audio of the teleconference here.
Toomey, who was narrowly re-elected in November, has backed every Trump cabinet nominee and said he'll support Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. He defended many of Trump's policy moves—including executive orders to review the 2010 financial oversight law and make it easier for the Keystone XL pipeline to move forward—and stuck to other established GOP positions.
He called Obamacare “failing” and confirmed his support for a smaller department of education and fewer regulations on big businesses. According to several polls, including NBC News, the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, the Affordable Care Act is now more popular with constituents than ever before.
He's also spoken against municipal "sanctuary city" legislation.
During the teleconference, Toomey said he's disappointed Trump hasn't been more critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin, but said he believes the President's secretaries of State and Defense fully understand the threat Putin poses. He criticized the way the president rolled out his executive order on immigration, but not the premise of it.
“It was too broad, it was poorly explained, it was not rolled out properly, it certainly should not have included green card holders…that was just a mistake,” he said.
Toomey’s office said over 7,500 constituents were on the call, with 8,000 more listening on an internet stream.
Updated at 7:43 a.m. Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. The Associated Press contributed to this report.