US Sen. Pat Toomey predicts quick aid to Harvey victims

Sen. Pat Toomey holds a town-hall meeting at the WLVT / PBS 39-TV studios, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017 in Bethlehem, Pa. Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey predicts Congress will move quickly on an emergency aid package for victims of Hurricane Harvey when lawmakers return from their August recess next week. (Tom Gralish/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania’s Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey predicted on Thursday that Congress will move quickly on an emergency aid package for victims of Hurricane Harvey when lawmakers return from their August recess next week.

Toomey, at a televised town hall, said he expects legislation that will “provide immediate assistance” and help Harvey victims “get the services and care that they need urgently.” He said Harvey aid could be paired with a stopgap spending bill to avert a government shutdown as well as an increase in the government’s borrowing authority.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Toomey warned lawmakers against larding any relief bill with spending unrelated to the devastating storm, which dumped about 52 inches (132 centimeters) of rain on part of Texas and caused dozens of deaths. Toomey said that’s why he voted against a Superstorm Sandy aid package in 2013.

“If it becomes a Christmas tree where every member of Congress adds whatever his or her favorite pork barrel spending program, well, then, I’m going to fight that,” he said. “That’s what Sandy became.”

At the town hall, Toomey, who has pushed to repeal President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, expressed disappointment at the Senate’s failure to pass a health care overhaul. He promised that majority Republicans will keep at it.

“We’re not giving up,” he said.

Toomey praised President Donald Trump’s cabinet picks and several elements of his Republican agenda, but he also took some shots.

The conservative senator said he hopes investigators get to the bottom of Russian interference in the 2016 election, panned Trump’s response to the recent deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and criticized the president’s pardon of former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

The town hall, broadcast live by the PBS affiliate in Bethlehem, was limited to 54 people, 24 of whom were hand-picked by local Republican and Democratic groups. The remaining 30 tickets were made available to the public.

Dozens of protesters gathered outside the station, calling the town hall a sham and urging Toomey to meet with a wider range of constituents in a larger venue.

“People can’t even have a dialogue with the senator,” said Jude Denis, executive director of the community group POWER Northeast.

Toomey was jeered at times during the live broadcast. One of his questioners denounced the event as a “fake town hall” and asked: “What will it take to have a real town hall with hundreds of people and real dialogue?”

Toomey replied that he talks to constituents all the time. But he said, “I’m not that interested in a disruptive event.”

Toomey was considered one of the nation’s most vulnerable incumbents heading into last November’s election but won a narrow victory for his second term.

Trump has derided the Russia investigation as “a fake story.” He has defended his response to the violence in Virginia and his pardon of the sheriff.

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