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Pittenger's 'Tele-Town Hall' Draws 6,000-Plus

Office of Congressman Pittenger

More than 6,000 people attended a town hall meeting Thursday evening with Congressman Robert Pittenger, though attend may not be the right word.

The Republican representative decided to hold the event over the phone.

The official reason given for this tele-town hall was that it allowed constituents from all over North Carolina's 9th Congressional District to attend without the inconvenience of a long drive.

Such concern is unnecessary, a caller named Mark told Pittenger (all callers were only identified by first name).

"In the future, I'd like to look you right in the eye and ask these questions," he said.

Pittenger answered by admitting this conference call was due to more than constituent convenience. 

"We have a broad district, we want to reach out," Pittegner said. "But also, frankly, as you watch the media, there are groups out there who seek to stage these protests and interfere with civil discussion."

Mark's broader question was about what comes after Obamacare.

"Before the inauguration, our president, President Trump said that he had this replacement plan on his desk with all the I's dotted and just waiting for the T's to be crossed. And I was wondering if you've seen that document yet?"

Pittenger started by praising the new head of the Department of Health and Human Services. Then he pivoted.

"Obamacare is structurally collapsing," Pittenger started to say.

"What I'm really interested in is not so much that it's collapsing but have you seen the bill yet?" Mark asked.

Pittenger said the replacement bill for Obamacare is still being written.

"We'll be back there working on it next week. There are various components that we're discussing and addressing."

This tele-town hall had the feel of a radio call-in show. A congressional staffer playing the role of host, introducing people who had questions. And the questions weren’t softballs. And they largely focused on one man.

"The anger and frustration that you're seeing on TV is very real. There are a lot of Americans, good Americans, not protesters or agitators. They are good Americans who are deeply disturbed by President Trump's conduct and his willingness to undermind the judiciary, our voting process, press, all for personal and political gain," said a caller named Greg.

He then asked Pittenger if he would demand that President Trump release his tax returns. No, Pittenger said, because it's not required by law.

A caller named Robin asked about alleged ties between Trump's presidential campaign and Russia.

"History is not going to be kind if these questions are not answered. So will you back an independent investigation"

"We have a very extensive intelligence committee," Pittenger responded. "A bi-partisan intelligence committee in the House and the Senate. Senator Burr is the chairman in the Senate. They're investigating these issues. I believe they are fully capable of doing this job."

There were just nine questions asked during the hour long call. Not all focused on the president's policies.

My question is about Planned Parenthood and your proposal to defund it," said a caller named Jen. "When Planned Parenthood serves more than 10 million visits every year over the country. Many of these serving healthcare needs for poor women and women in rural areas and families in rural areas where there is no alternative."

Pittenger disagreed with her premise.

"The reality is that Planned Parenthood provides 1.8 percent of the clinical breast exams in the country and less than 1 percent of the pap tests. But they provide 35 percent of the abortions nationwide," Pittenger said.

He did not state where he got those numbers. (WFAE is checking these numbers).

A caller named Cynthia addressed race and a statement made by Pittenger in an interview with the BBC last year.

"You made a comment that black people hate white people because are successful and they're not. As an African-American I was very hurt by those comments."

Pittenger said he was just quoting an African-American protester he saw on TV.

"It probably wasn’t the best way to say it. And I apologize for saying it like that but I was trying to bring context into it."

Pittenger is one of two members of North Carolina's congressional delegation who is having a town hall, or "tele-town hall," during this Congressional recess. The other, Democratic Representative G.K. Butterfield of Wilson, is holding a traditional, in-person town hall meeting at Hillside High School in Hillsborough on Saturday at 1 p.m.