U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, held a wide-ranging telephone meeting with constituents Monday night, reaching about 5,000 residents of the northern portion of Congressional District 17.

“I thought the questions were great and reflect the issues of today,” Flores said after the 1½-hour conference call that was also live-streamed online. “You had a couple of questions on Russia, lots of questions on health care, veterans, and a couple on tax reform.”

Callers and Facebook Live audience members from Falls, Freestone, Leon, Limestone, McLennan, Milam and Robertson counties posed questions to the congressman in his first such meeting this summer. Instead of traditional in-person town hall meetings, Flores has opted to take phone calls and stream a video of the live telephone press conference online, similar to the meetings he held in the spring.

“When you do a physical town hall, it takes several weeks of advanced planning to get venue, security and promotion put together, but right now, for the August recess, I don’t know when we will actually be out,” Flores said. “We are supposed to wrap up on Friday and be back in our districts for the month of August, but that is looking pretty iffy right now, so I wanted to schedule these.”

Format favored

Flores said his constituents seem to like the new call-in and online format. During the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, 80 percent of participants voted in favor of the telephone meetings.

Mary Duty, McLennan County Democratic Party chair, said she watched portions of the meeting Monday night, but was not in favor of the new format. She said since questions are monitored, she does not feel like the telephonic meetings were a true representation of district members’ concerns and questions.

“I know we have all kinds of technological tools we can use, but nothing takes the place of your congressman getting in a room with people and really immersing him or herself with what is really going on,” Duty said. “I fear that we have lost something with our current elected official, because he will not face the people.

“We’ve heard the arguments before, and I get it about reaching so many more home-bound people, but since this last election, he has made a point of not getting out to mix and mingle with the average voter.”

Laws passed

Flores opened the meeting by stating that he wanted to share information with the public about the work currently going on in Washington, D.C. He said representatives have been busy working on legislation.

“There has been a lot of chatter in the media that Washington hasn’t been very productive this year, and in some cases that’s true, but with respect to the House of Representatives, that is not true,” Flores said during the meeting.

U.S. representatives have passed more legislation to date than at the same point in the past three presidencies, he said. Flores said Congress has passed meaningful bills, including landmark veterans reform, the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, and record regulatory reforms.

Constituents, though, expressed concern about ongoing struggles for veterans and continued grappling with the cost of health care during the meeting. Flores addressed concerns about coverage for constituents with pre-existing conditions in Congress’ version of the American Health Care Act.

“The American Health Care Act does cover pre-existing conditions, but what we ask you to do is maintain continuous health care coverage, so if you are on a plan with a pre-existing condition, as long as you don’t have more than a 63-day break in coverage, you are going to be covered at standard rates,” Flores said. “In a situation, what we propose, is if you do have a break in coverage for more than 63 days, then you will pay a one-time, 30 percent surcharge on premiums for that year in order to get covered.”

Other topics

Flores fielded other questions about the national budget, threats to national security, immigration and Russian interference with the 2016 election. A caller named Craig from Waco said he had a question that Flores deemed one of the easiest of the night.

“Do you believe the president of the United States is a man of honor and integrity?” Craig asked.

“I haven’t seen him outwardly lie to Congress or the American people. I do think he does have some issues that have made it harder for him to be effective in his job,” Flores said. “When I look at the total picture as Donald Trump as president, about 80 percent of what he does and what I see I really like, because he is working on the things the American people put us up here to do.”

Flores said Trump’s remarks on Twitter and having family members in the Oval Office have been a distraction. He said he stands behind Trump and will continue to help move the nation forward.

A second telephone meeting with constituents in southern counties took place Tuesday night. Replays of both events are available online at flores.house.gov or on Flores’ Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ RepBillFlores.

Kristin Hoppa has been covering public safety and breaking news for the Tribune-Herald since January 2016. She worked in Northwest Missouri covering crime-related issues before her move to Central Texas. She is a University of Kansas graduate.

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