Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania cast himself as a policy-first worker in Congress in his first town hall meeting this session as he downplayed concerns about Russian meddling in elections and turned away suggestions about gun control after another mass shooting.
Speaking Tuesday evening to more than 60 people in a suburban Harrisburg fire hall, Perry also insisted that children are being cared for at the U.S.-Mexico border as best as possible under the circumstances.
In the course of answering roughly two dozen questions, Perry typically defended President Donald Trump when Trump's name came up in the question-and-answer session with the politically divided crowd that occasionally grumbled at his answers or challenged him. Perry also passed on opportunities to criticize Trump.
At one point, Perry was asked what line Trump must cross in his public statements before Perry will condemn it.
"I'm not condemning anyone," Perry said. "I've got my vote and you've got your vote. ... You don't need me what to tell you to think about all this stuff."
An audience member shot back, "silence is complicity."
Perry, a member of the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus in the House who has occasionally jousted with cable TV news hosts, stressed that he tries to stay out of the drama of Washington and focus on policymaking.
Perry could face a challenge next year from Democratic state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. Perry narrowly won a fourth term in November's election in the southcentral Pennsylvania district.
Asked specifically about Trump's two-week-old tweet calling on four Democratic congresswomen of color to "go back" to their home countries, Perry did not single out the president. He has heard "appalling" things said on both sides of the aisle, he said.
Perry made clear that he does not support some of the policies that are popular among progressives — such as "Medicare for All" or a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage — and he suggested that concerns about Russia meddling in elections are overblown.
For one thing, he said, Congress provided money to states to secure election systems — $380 million last year — and, for another, state election systems are decentralized.
In any case, Russian meddling is nothing new, he said, and perhaps more concerning are attempts by Russian agents on social media to pit Americans against one another in an effort to destabilize the country.
Perry backed the Trump administration's move to stop allowing states, including Pennsylvania, to exceed federal income eligibility thresholds for food stamps, and supports Trump's efforts to engage with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying it has "kept us out of a war with North Korea."
Asked what he will do to end mass shootings, Perry suggested that he sees further restrictions on gun ownership as unconstitutional and that a solution would probably have to revolve around identifying mentally unstable people who are at risk, without encroaching on their rights.
"It's a balancing act of the rights that we have versus a safe society," Perry said.
Perry also backed Trump's handling of immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border, as an unprecedented number of families come to it, straining government resources and resulting in dangerously overcrowded detention facilities.
Some people come to the border with needs, Perry said, and the nation is generous and will not shut its doors to them. But, he said, the nation's generosity is being abused by people crossing the border illegally.
Pressed by an audience member as to whether he believes immigrant children are being treated appropriately, he responded that the federal government is doing "as best we can under the circumstances."