Despite other testy town halls, Isakson's telephone forum stays polite

While recent congressional outreach events in Georgia have proven to be raucous and rocky affairs, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson's telephone town hall event on Thursday evening was remarkably civil.

Missing entirely from the 55-minute call were the protests, chanting and overall testiness that have marked in-person events across the state and nationally, including a constituent service event Isakson's staff hosted with two other GOP offices last month.

Instead, Thursday's question and answer session was nothing if not a polite affair, even with the questioners who said they were deeply concerned about President Donald Trump's policies on issues such as refugees, health care and the environment. Many callers wished Isakson a speedy recovery from his recent back surgery and waited for him to finish his responses before asking follow-ups.

Isakson acknowledged the surge of civil engagement in the six weeks since Trump was sworn into office.

“I don’t know if there’s ever been a more interesting time in the last 12 years other than the last six weeks," he said. "With the election and the swearing-in of President Trump, a lot of things have happened."

The three-term senator fielded 17 questions on topics ranging from Russian meddling in the election to charter schools and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to name a few.

An Isakson spokeswoman said calls were screened beforehand in order to avoid repeat questions and topics but that staff was not looking to weed out tough questions.

She said roughly 3,400 people called into the event or live-streamed it online.

The tele-town hall came in stark contrast to many other events in Georgia and nationwide that Trump opponents have used as forums to vent their frustrations about Trump's policies.

Compared to in-person events, the telephone format is a more controlled one that allows lawmakers to bow to pressure to talk directly to constituents while cutting down on the risk of embarrassing moments that can easily become viral video fodder. Other Republican lawmakers have chosen to avoid town halls altogether.

Indeed, not everyone left Thursday's call satisfied.

Following the event, 'Remember Us, Johnny?' a group critical of Isakson's agenda, issued a press release criticizing the format for being "carefully choreographed." It said many people did not receive an invitation to the event.

"Senator Isakson seems to have forgotten that he represents all Georgians, and not just those chosen to interact with the senator during carefully choreographed events," the group stated.

"While we understand the senator is recovering from surgery and wish him a speedy recovery, we urge him to schedule a live, in-person town hall meeting during the Easter recess," the group said.

Isakson and other Georgia lawmakers have been under immense pressure to hold such events as Trump opponents reel over many of the president's policies.

Many critics have turned to flooding the phone lines of congressional offices as others have held protests and vigils. About 100 demonstrators recently gathered outside of Sen. David Perdue’s downtown Atlanta office to hold a mock town hall event, directing questions to empty folding chairs representing Perdue and U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.

After one caller complained that she has been unable to get through to Isakson's office in recent weeks, the Republican responded that his staff has fielded as many as 27,000 calls during some busy weeks.

"That’s a lot to handle," Isakson said. "But we always will work to see to it that we meet every one of them and I appreciate everybody being on this call tonight."

Only one other Georgia Republican has held a town hall in the six weeks since President Donald Trump was sworn into office. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, had a much rocker time at his in-person event last week.

Read more:

A lone GOP Georgia congressman holds a rocky town hall meeting

Anti-Trump protesters pack Perdue, Isakson event

Georgia Democrats try not to ‘waste’ anti-Trump movement

Isakson, Perdue’s offices inundated by calls during Trump’s first days

How to contact your Georgia congressmen

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author

Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that...