I was browsing through my Facebook this morning when I came across an interesting entry. It pertained to my congressman who represents me here in Pennsylvania’s 6th District. At least on paper, Rep. Ryan Costello is one of the most vulnerable Republican members of Congress, mainly because although the 6th is one of most ridiculously gerrymandered districts in the nation it has turned decisively against the GOP in the era of Trump.
Costello anticipated this. For example, he declined to attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland as a delegate. He joined Pennsylvania Republican representatives Charlie Dent, Brian Fitzpatrick and Pat Meehan in voting against the House’s Obamacare repeal bill. He also spent the spring running and hiding from his constituents who wanted him to attend town hall meetings and discuss health care and other issues.
Most recently, however, he was in the news for a scarier reason. On June 14th, he narrowly missed a ride to the baseball practice where James Hodgkinson opened fire on Republicans who were preparing for the the annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity. Thus, he narrowly avoided being in the same line of fire that nearly killed House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and wounded Capitol Police officer Crystal Griner, Congressional aide Zack Barth and Tyson Foods lobbyist Matt Mika.
It must be scary to realize that you came so close to death, and I can hardly blame Rep. Ryan Costello for being spooked and concerned about his security in the future. The problem is that he’s using the shooting on June 14th as an excuse for why he ducked a February town hall meeting in Phoenixville.
The local paper here understandably found that to be a ludicrous explanation for his absence and said as much in a report on the front-page.
Which brings me to the Facebook post.
Now, what Costello actually wrote was that the folks who invited him to the Phoenixville High School auditorium “actually were creating a potential trap for me so people would be able to shoot at me.” Of course, at the time, he cited a scheduling conflict as the reason that he wound not attend.
Costello wrote that “the fake town hall was intended to embarrass me into attending even though they didn’t provide any security considerations.”
Writing “basic security measures are normal, they had none,” Costello added in a subsequent email on July 7, “no question the partisan fake town hall organizers put me in danger and obviously ‘death trap’ is what it could have been.”
So, on the one hand he’s claiming that this was a fake town hall set up by partisans who wanted to embarrass him. On the other hand, he’s suggesting that he would have attended anyway if not for the total lack of security provided for the event.
There are a couple of problems with Costello’s account, however. First, it was a real town hall event:
About 380 people showed up for Saturday’s meeting and were ready to discuss some of their issues and pass along their concerns to Costello, a Chester County Republican who represents Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District, which includes portions of Chester, Montgomery, Berks and Lebanon counties…
…Attendees lined the center aisles waiting to approach the microphone. So many people showed up to ask questions that the two-hour meeting was not enough time to get to everyone who had lined up. By 3 p.m., about 10 people were still in line to ask a question before it was cut short.
I live nearby, and if you can pack the auditorium at Phoenixville High School, you’ve done something beyond holding a small symbolic protest.
Secondly, Costello never inquired about the security arrangements. In fact, he refused to engage with the organizers at all.
Wayne resident Claire Witzleben, who responded on behalf of the group to a Digital First Media inquiry about Costello’s security concerns, said it is “ridiculous” to suggest her group wanted to put Costello in danger.
“If he had responded to our requests, we would have been happy to discuss security concerns with him,” said Witzleben. In April, organizers told the Phoenixville Area School Board they tried at least 35 times to contact Costello through letters, emails and his website.
Despite the fact that Costello was not at the Feb. 25 event, Witzleben said “we screened people at the town hall about whether they were constituents of the Sixth District and we had local police there.”
If Costello saw no political upside to attending an event where he knew the audience would be hostile, I can understand that. I think he should be able to face his constituents, as Sen. Bob Casey did today in Erie, but I’ll also concede that he’s the best judge of what is in his own political interests. Either way, he should own his own decision, not try to retroactively accuse the people who invited him of trying to get him shot.
So, he turned up at the gym this morning and saw the headline in the Daily Local News about how he was making these cowardly and baseless allegations. He then collapsed right by the front desk, ran out to his car, and came back in in a profuse sweat to apologize for his bizarre behavior.
I’d like to reiterate that I do have empathy for how scary and upsetting it was for Costello to have such a close brush with death. I know he’s also understandably distraught about the injuries that his friends and colleagues suffered while trying to practice for a charity baseball game. I won’t begrudge him for one second any concern he has about his security at future events. I wouldn’t even criticize him if he wanted to take some time off or simply avoid public events of any kind for a while. He shouldn’t do anything that he finds frightening or overly uncomfortable.
But that doesn’t give him the right to make false accusations against his own constituents. I know he understands this which is why he fainted when he saw it printed up in the local paper. Whenever he feels up to it, he should apologize for his behavior, because it has been shameless.