SPRINGFIELD, Pa.—Here in Southeastern Pennsylvania on Wednesday evening, a town-hall meeting had all of the characteristics of a modern-day constituents' forum: at least a half-dozen video cameras, activists from the left and right, police officers standing by—and, of course, a member of Congress who broke out in a sweat while trying to inspire a crowd brimming with frustration at the state of the economy and government.
"A recent Gallup Poll just came out, and it said that 80 percent of people are very dissatisfied with Congress," Republican freshman Pat Meehan told the crowd, who clapped in agreement. "I'm as frustrated as that other 80 percent, I really am. I want to be in a place where we can get things done."
Meehan sought to tap into the concern among the people of the state's left-leaning 7th Congressional District, where he held two other town-hall meetings earlier that day—in Upper Merion Township and Concord Township. Following are some highlights from the events.
Meehan began each question-and-answer session with a plea for civility and respect. "I think I'm appreciative of the large crowd," Meehan joked at the Springfield Township Building where there was standing-room only. More solemnly he said, "I'm grateful for the presence of the police here tonight," before speaking about how he finds inspiration in Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was shot in the head at a similar constituent meet-and-greet in January.
In an interview with National Journal, Meehan expressed disappointment with how the forums have evolved to become less than productive.
The biggest applause of the day came in response to an unemployed constituent in his 50s who asked Meehan and his Republican colleagues to work with Democrats to create jobs.
"I'm going crazy trying to find a job, and when I see people bickering about raising the debt ceiling, I want to throw my shoe at the TV," the man said. The unemployment rate in Pennsylvania was 7.8 percent in July, according to the state's Labor Department. "What we need is a meaningful jobs bill, and stop fighting the president over jobs."
Watch the crowd respond below: (The voice you hear off-screen is the upset constituent.)
Constituents cheered loudest for Meehan when he explained why he believes that certain Environmental Protection Agency regulations could threaten jobs in the district.
"I'm willing to work along with the EPA, but what we have to have is a sense of balance," he said when asked about what he's doing to promote clean air and water. Meehan pointed to the two refineries in the lower part of the 7th CD that employ some 2,000 people and, he said, support 1,000-5,000 other jobs directly or indirectly. EPA's water regulations that are requiring construction of an expensive water-cooling system could be the straw that breaks the camel's back for the refineries that are already struggling, Meehan said.
Watch him make his pitch to the Springfield audience: