Ryan Costello talks to constituents at town hall
WEST CHESTER >> U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, R-6, of West Goshen, stayed true to his reputation as a moderate Republican in what the congressman said is a “purple district,” at Saturday afternoon’s town hall.
Several times at the Historic Chester County Courthouse, he differed from President Donald Trump’s positions and the Republican party line.
About 200 constituents from the district heard Costello answer questions concerning everything from the Affordable Care Act, minimum wage and redistricting.
Radio station WCHE’s Bill Mason moderated and selected the questions from a pool of more than 70, which were submitted in writing. Costello made a brief statement and then answered questions for 80 minutes.
In what was a decidedly Democratic audience – or possibly liberals were seemingly the loudest – partisan cheers and jeers were regularly directed at the two-term congressman.
Costello received more applause, including a couple of standing ovations, but was also booed and hissed at several times. The audience listened intently and often yelled out sharp rejoinders and comments.
Costello favors preserving portions of the ACA – also known as Obamacare – including coverage of pre-exiting conditions, keeping children up to age 26 on their parent’s health care plans and offering essential health benefits.
He hedged a bit.
“We will have to let the legislative process unfold,” he said. “We’ll be watching closely.
“Repealing the ACA without a replacement … is a step backwards.”
The former county commissioner adopted a wait-and-see attitude concerning an ongoing investigation involving Russia’s alleged interference with America’s elections last year, and potential ties to members of the Trump administration or campaign team.
“When the report comes out you’ll be able to see what evidence was reviewed and what remains,” Costello said. “It’s classified. At this time we don’t need an independent commission.”
Costello took some heat prior to the meeting for not choosing a larger venue and not holding in-person town halls more often. Twenty-four hours before Saturday’s town hall, Costello said that no other similar meetings were planned, or if scheduled, whether they would be held in a larger room.
The congressman said the event would be broadcast on his website.
“It’s very important for me to hear everything you say whether we agree or disagree,” he said. “I’ve tried to do my best to be as accessible as possible.”
Lisa Longo, of Phoenixville, led off with the first question. She asked about Trump’s trillion-dollar infrastructure budget item.
“We need to first find out what the term infrastructure means … and how it’s going to be funded,” said the representative. “Is the Trump proposal shovel-ready?”
Costello talked about the need for infrastructure funding for the $2 billion I-95 improvements and train service along the Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.
Trump’s border wall was discussed. Costello wondered whether a wall would stretch along the entire Mexican border or if the border would be partly controlled by surveillance.
“My feeling is building a physical wall along the entire southern border is not the best way,” he said.
When asked about the situation in Syria, Costello said that both financial and human costs of U.S. intervention would need to be evaluated.
“We need to ask ourselves if there is anything we could do nationally to solve that situation. Would it be just us?”
Regardless of how he feels about Trump’s proposed budget, Costello said it has no chance of passing in the House of Representatives.
Costello favors retaining the Paris Climate accord.
“I will always be looking out for our environment,” he said.
One audience member yelled out that he wants the same health care the rep receives.
If the ACA is left in place to “implode,” there would be a “slow march” toward a single-payer plan, according to Costello. Many in the crowd booed when Costello said that such a plan is not appropriate.
Concerning term limits, the congressman asked his own question. If experienced leaders are bounced out, “who runs the place?” he said.
He then answered the question.
The biggest applause of the afternoon was when Costello said that Trump should disclose his tax returns.
Although the Trump budget might slash funding for the program, Costello said that Community Development Block Grants should be retained.
“I’ll really go to bat for us and keep these grants in place,” he said. “I’ll make sure that we’re fighting for our fair share.”
The congressman said he would have to consider if any increase in the minimum wage would cause employers to slash jobs.
Steve Friedberg of Phoenixville said after the event that the audience was respectful.
“By contrast, from the video you’ve seen from other town halls around the country, this was remarkably well-behaved,” he said.
Longo complained that there was not time for follow-up questions.
“I appreciate Congressman Costello doing the event at all,” she said. “A more meaningful event would allow a bit more interaction.”
About 100 demonstrators waived signs outside the event. Organizers said the rally was planned prior to Costello’s town hall being announced.
Meanwhile, protesters in Springfield, Delaware County, rallied Saturday outside the office of U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, R-7, of Chadds Ford, to voice their support of the ACA, and opposition to the American Health Care Act – the bill promoted by congressional Republicans as a way to repeal and replace the ACA – which was pulled from the House agenda after it failed to gain support from enough Republican representatives to pass.
Both Costello and Meehan initially voted for the AHCA in committee, but said they would have voted against it if a final vote was held for it on the House floor.