Sen. Thom Tillis hosts online town hall via Facebook Live

By Imari Scarbrough -

Screenshot U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) held a digital town hall over Facebook Live on May 11. The senator addressed several questions on climate change, medical marijuana, Alzheimer’s funding and more.

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis, R- N.C., held a Facebook Live question and answer session on May 11.

As of Monday afternoon, the post had more than 25,100 views, 266 shares, 720 likes and reactions, and 3,473 comments including Tillis’ responses to comments left beneath the video.

The online town hall lasted more than 47 minutes. Tillis sat in front of the camera reading from a nearby laptop, and said he was reading questions he’d already selected while off-camera staff also looked at the comments. He read aloud and answered select questions, while many others were left in the comments below and the page left replies to many.

Some users thanked him for holding the question-and-answer session, but many criticized the senator for not holding a town hall in person, and doing it in a format where answers were pre-selected rather than on the spot.

The first question he addressed was whether he would call for a special prosecutor or independent commission to investigate President Donald Trump’s alleged ties with Russia.

“I think what we have to do first is let the investigation that is being chaired by Sen. (Richard) Burr, the senior senator from North Carolina, and the ranking member, (Sen.) Mark Warner from Virginia (D-Va.), and let them complete their investigation so that we know what, if any, steps are required,” Tillis said. “That’s a process that was agreed to on a bi-partisan basis, and I think rather than chasing the distractions that we sometimes get in part just because of the hyper-partisan environment we’re in, both ends of the spectrum, I think it makes more sense to let them complete their investigation. And I would not object to an independent counsel, if that’s where the data leads them, but I’m going to wait until I get the recommendation out of the intelligence committee.”

“‘You support pre-existing conditions,’” Tillis read, identifying the writer as Chad. “‘The current health bill passed (in) the House allows states to opt out of covering pre-existing conditions. How will you respond to the House bill’?

“We’re going through this now,” Tillis responded. “The House bill just got to us late last week. We’re going through a scoring process, which is necessary before we can actually go to formal consideration of the bill. But I think covering pre-existing conditions is pretty important. I don’t have a problem leaving it to the states to figure out how to implement it. I really find it hard to believe that any state would not have this as a part of their coverage strategies, but I think it’s something that’s best left to the states.

“In North Carolina, as a practical matter, I can’t imagine that we would move forward with the consideration for pre-existing conditions,” he continued. “I was in the legislature before I came to the Senate, and the fact of the matter is, North Carolina’s optional Medicaid benefits — they’re behind the minimum required by the federal government — are beyond what many states have to offer. So thematically, we’re already going beyond the minimum federal standards, so I would advocate for a framework coming out of the Senate bill that really provides a significant incentive to have pre-existing requirements in the bill. I believe we’ll have it in North Carolina, and I’ll be working on policies that’ll make it even more likely that every state will have that option.

“The key here is a political consequence,” he added. “I think if a state chooses not to do it it will really be at their own peril. Not only will they have to answer to the constituents, but it doesn’t make sense to leave that part of the — it’s a relatively small number in the scheme of things, and I think if they work it in, and we’re only talking about a fairly small percentage of the population — we have to recognize that what we’re talking about here in terms of Obamacare is the minor part of the people who are insured in North Carolina to begin with. So not having that in there is illogical, but having a healthcare alternative that allows the states to make a lot of the decisions that we’ve all of a sudden concentrated in Washington I think is a better, sustainable way to go about it. And I think pre-existing conditions, as I’ve said for several years, has to be baked into the North Carolina solutions.”

One user, named as Sandy McFarland on Facebook, asked, “Why are no women involved on the healthcare committee when women represent over 50 percent of the U.S. population?”

“Sandy, the working group is open to any senators who wish to attend as we seek to make improvements to the American Health Care Act, as noted in the article below,” Tillis responded in a comment, linking the article, “McConnell promises women can take part in healthcare meetings,” from The Hill. “This is only the first step in a long process before the bill goes to the floor for a vote, and we will have to be voted out of the Finance Committee and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee before it comes before the full Senate.”

Tillis one read question from someone he identified as Joe about the United States-Mexico border wall proposed by President Trump. The question asked what Tillis’ thoughts on the wall are, and how he thought it should be funded.

“I was on the Texas border for a four-day tour a couple of months ago, and I spent hours — literally about 14, 16 hours a day — with border control agents, the rank-and-file,” he said. “I’ve been out on ranches where we have people crossing the border, many of them dying, out in a very difficult area to navigate through. I spoke with the heads of departments, but I spoke with the people driving those boats and on the ATVs on the ground. What they tell me is we need a secure border — but we don’t need necessarily need a wall, a physical structure.

“You know, imagine a three-foot-thick wall, 30 feet high, in every place,” Tillis said. “We need a secure border. We need people, technology and infrastructure at the right place, which also includes walls, but let’s not put it where it may not be necessary. Let’s not put it on top of a 1,500 foot cliff. We probably don’t need that. But we probably need aerial surveillance or some other surveillance just to make sure that we have situational awareness and border patrol agents can be there if they need to be.

“I don’t necessarily think that we should take down fences that are working to put up a wall, and I will use the California sector as an example of an area where the fences are generally working,” he continued. “They’re not coming over the fences, they’re coming under the fences in tunnels. Walls don’t fix that, but some sort of penetration in the ground is probably necessary, or intelligence. But I try to tell everybody the logic test here for me is more than anything else. I was on a television show a week or so ago, and I said, ‘I want to listen to the people who put on a bulletproof vest every day and go out there to protect the border. And if they tell me a wall is what’s absolutely necessary for them to be safe and do their job, then I’m for a wall. None of them have said that.”

Instead, Tillis said border security agents have told him that the nation needs structures only in key places and other methods to protect the rest of it. The senator said he toured a 7,500 acre ranch where he learned that they had recovered 100 bodies of people trying to cross the border but were left alone by their smugglers.

“So it’s a humanitarian crisis,” he said. “People who are against the wall should at least recognize there are people dying out there because we simply don’t know that they’re there. So through people, technology and infrastructure, building a virtual wall, a virtual capability to secure the border, if something that I support, and I think the funding can come from several sources. There’s already money that’s available. I think if we build this and we’re smart, it’ll be sustainable, cost a lot less than just a thinking about a hardened structure, and it’ll make our border security personnel much more safe. It will also reduce the cost to build the wall, or create a virtual wall, so that we can spend more money on the legal crossings, where about 85 percent of all the drugs that come across, we don’t have the technology and personnel to identify. So we’ve got to be smart, listen to people and get out of these absolutes.”

Tillis addressed several other questions relating to Hurricane Matthew recovery funding, Alzheimer’s funding, medical marijuana, climate change, immigration reform, criminal justice reform and a variety of other topics.

To watch the full video and read the comments and replies, visit the Facebook page ‘Senator Thom Tillis,’ @SenatorThomTillis.

Reach reporter Imari Scarbrough at 704-994-5471 and follow her on Twitter @ImariScarbrough.

Screenshot U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) held a digital town hall over Facebook Live on May 11. The senator addressed several questions on climate change, medical marijuana, Alzheimer’s funding and more. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) held a digital town hall over Facebook Live on May 11. The senator addressed several questions on climate change, medical marijuana, Alzheimer’s funding and more.

By Imari Scarbrough

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