WASHINGTON — Sen. Pat Toomey will hold a town-hall meeting in Bethlehem Thursday night before an expected audience of 54 people, scheduling the event after months of pressure from liberals who have regularly protested outside his offices across the state.
The event will be hosted by the local PBS station, which announced it Friday afternoon.
While opening Toomey to questions and spontaneous reactions from a live audience, as his critics have called for, the event will be a small one compared to other recent town halls, many of which have turned raucous as voters on the left urged lawmakers to stand against President Trump. Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) faced a crowd of around 2,000 in February and Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) filled much of a 750-person auditorium for his first town hall of the year. Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur spoke to around 250 in South Jersey in May and Rep. Leonard Lance, a Republican from central New Jersey, took questions from a crowd of nearly 1,000 in April.
For Toomey's event, 30 tickets will be available to the general public on a first-come, first-serve basis for those who register on PBS39's web site. The remaining 24 seats will be split among Lehigh Valley Democratic and Republican groups, according to Toomey's office and PBS.
The senator lives in the Lehigh Valley.
The 7 p.m. town hall will arrive just before Labor Day weekend and as Congress prepares to return to Washington with a loaded September agenda that includes funding the government, raising the federal borrowing limit and GOP hopes for a major tax overhaul.
"Since joining the Senate in 2011, I have participated in more than 70 town halls and other public forums so that I can engage directly with my constituents on the issues being considered by the Senate and that matter the most to them," Toomey said in a release issued by the station. "The Lehigh Valley is home and I am looking forward to being with my constituents from the area."
Toomey will take some questions from the audience and also will answer others submitted in advance online. PBS39 and its partners for the event — the Allentown Morning Call and Muhlenberg College — will decide which online questions are posed to the senator. Participants will be required to sign a pledge to limit interruptions and outbursts. The town hall will be televised live.
In a larger sense, Pennsylvania voters rendered their judgment on Toomey last November, when he was narrowly elected to a second six-year term. He only began taking serious heat from the grassroots left after Election Day, when those inflamed by Trump's victory called on the senator to act as a check on the new president. They have insisted most prominently on having a public forum in which to question Toomey.
"We expect that questions may range from foreign policy to the recent events in Charlottesville. This is an opportunity for citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to engage in constructive dialogue with an elected official," said PBS' Laura McHugh, who will serve as the moderator.
The group Tuesdays with Toomey has staged regular protests outside Toomey's offices in Philadelphia and elsewhere, and has accused the senator of ducking constituents by declining to hold open town hall meetings.