Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.), one of 23 Republicans whose district voted against Donald Trump for president, will hold a constituent event in Philadelphia’s suburbs today — with conditions. According to the “conversation with constituents” listing on Eventbrite, Costello will take measures to prevent the sort of raucousness that’s disturbed other Republican members of Congress at such events.
“Seating is limited,” the rules say. “Doors open for check-in at 2 p.m. Due to Chester County Court rules there will be no videotape recording of the event. This meeting is for constituents only. Please note your address will be verified at the door.”
That language attracted the ire of local Indivisible groups, which have frequently taped their interactions at town halls, resulting in awkward media coverage for the members of Congress. The American Civil Liberties Union, after spotting the Eventbrite language, suggested that it might violate laws around free speech.
“It raises serious Constitutional concerns for a sitting Congressman to host a public event at a courthouse, forbid any recording, and deny entry to any constituent who doesn’t turn over their cell phone at the door,” ACLU spokesman Karthik Ganapathy said in a statement. “Government officials serve the people, which is why constituents have the right to record public meetings. The ACLU won’t stand for any attempt to impede on people’s rights or shroud the workings of government in secrecy, simply because a Congressman is afraid of democracy. If Rep. Costello doesn’t honor the first amendment at his town hall, then we’ll assemble some concerned citizens outside who will.”
Costello’s spokeswoman Natalie Gillam pointed out that other members of Congress have held town hall meetings at courthouses — which in some states restrict filming and recording — and that the news media would not be restricted from coverage.
“Constituents attending Rep. Costello’s town hall will have their cell phones and characterizations otherwise are false,” Gillam said in a statement. “The press was notified of the town hall and we expect they will be in attendance, as well. We are complying with the rules determined by the courthouse. We are very surprised the ACLU is opposed to the Congressman providing a public forum for citizens to discuss issues important to them with their Congressman, but that’s their prerogative.”
Costello was one of dozens of Republicans who rejected the American Health Care Act. Such resistance to the GOP leadership’s plan to replace the Affordable Care Act led to it to being pulled from the House floor last month, putting Republicans into a sort of limbo as voters and insurers ask whether they’ll substantively change the health-care system.
But Democrats, who see Costello as a top 2018 target in a district that has grown bluer since it was drawn, point out that Costello came out against the AHCA only when it was collapsing. When the bill was rocketing through the Energy and Commerce Committee, Costello voted for it — a vote his Democratic opponent may hang around his neck.