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Ted Cruz, partaking here in a public interview during the September 2017 Texas Tribune Festival, said he's done 17 Texas town halls in 2017 (Nick Wagner, Austin American-Statesman). Ted Cruz, partaking here in a public interview during the September 2017 Texas Tribune Festival, said he's done 17 Texas town halls in 2017 (Nick Wagner, Austin American-Statesman).

Ted Cruz, partaking here in a public interview during the September 2017 Texas Tribune Festival, said he's done 17 Texas town halls in 2017 (Nick Wagner, Austin American-Statesman).

By W. Gardner Selby October 4, 2017

Ted Cruz, asked if he's interacting with Texans, says he's done 17 'town halls' in 2017

He’s not Waldo. But could it be that U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas doesn’t get personally grilled by constituents very often?

Cruz, a Republican poised to seek re-election in 2018, hardly has a reputation of avoiding attention. After all, he ran for president shortly after making waves in Washington and held on as the last viable Republican alternate to Donald Trump.

Regardless, the Houston lawyer was told during the 2017 Texas Tribune Festival about a Democratic challenger’s suggestion that Cruz hadn’t visited small Texas towns during the term he won in 2012.

"Do you do enough interaction with your constituents, Sen. Cruz?" interviewer Evan Smith asked.

Cruz replied: "That is a huge part of the job. In 2017, I’ve done 17 town halls."

We wondered about that.

A town hall, Cruz spokesman Phil Novack later noted by email, is defined by Merriam-Webster as "an event at which a public official or political candidate addresses an audience by answering questions posed by individual members."

By that definition, Novack was nudging, town halls don’t have to be open to just anybody to ask anything. Indeed, when we looked, Merriam-Webster followed its definition with this sample sentence: "Town halls have lost some of their spontaneity. The 80 or so undecided voters chosen for Tuesday's event must submit their questions in advance and moderator Candy Crowley of CNN will decide which people to call on."

Cruz’s office lists 19 events

Novack otherwise told us Cruz had held 19 town halls with Texas constituents in 2017, all "organized by third parties who determined attendees, where" the senator "has taken unvetted questions from anyone in the crowd--at businesses, factories, chambers of commerce, and in public venues."

Novack said three of the gatherings--which would be 16 percent--"were open for the general public to register and attend." Those, he said, were hosted by Concerned Veterans for America, a group that seeks to shift veterans hospitals from the federal government to a nonprofit corporation. Eleven of the 19 events were open to reporters, Novack said, four were aired live.

Novack provided a chart specifying each event, its date and location, which shows three events were hosted by business chambers of commerce and a dozen were hosted by business groups or specific businesses. Individual businesses hosted 11 of the listed events that weren’t open to the general public, according to the chart. The businesses, including Division Laundry & Cleaners in San Antonio, Sysco Central Texas in New Braunfels and Igloo Products Corp. in Katy, had employee town halls with Cruz, the chart says.

The veterans group, per the chart, hosted Cruz at July events in McKinney, Austin and Houston. On Aug. 24, the chart says, the Border Patrol union hosted the senator at an El Paso meeting.

By email to our inquiry, a CVA spokesman, Jim Fellinger, told us each CVA event with Cruz was open to the public by registration, without the group screening out anybody who registered. "Participants were given the opportunity to ask questions by submitting question cards that were handed out at the beginning of the event," Fellinger said. "These events involved a discussion about bringing greater health care choice to the Department of Veterans Affairs."

Fellinger pointed us to video posts of the CVA events showing that Cruz each time took questions via a moderator, who recognized a few individuals to speak directly to Cruz. We didn’t spot any questions straying from health care.

Events confirmed

Next, we confirmed from press releases, news stories and video snippets that Cruz made the appearances described in the Novack-provided chart. Events in bold on the chart below were open to reporters, Phil Novack, a spokesman for Sen. Ted Cruz, said. From our research, we added web links to news reports, videos and press releases about the events.






El Paso

Border Patrol Union

Border Patrol Union Town Hall


El Paso

South Central Texas office

El Paso's Pecan Growers and Agriculture Industry Leaders Lunch & Town Hall


El Paso

Plastic Molding Technology

Plastic Molding Technology Executive Roundtable & Employee Townhall



Royal Technologies Manufacturing Plant

Royal Technologies Manufacturing Plant Exec Roundtable, Tour, & Employee Town Hall


San Antonio

Division Laundry & Cleaners

Division Laundry & Cleaners Tour & Employee Town Hall


San Antonio

San Antonio Chamber of Commerce

San Antonio Chamber of Commerce Q&A


New Braunfels


Sysco Tour & Employee Town Hall



Sage Oil Vac

Sage Oil Vac Tour and Employee Town Hall



Igloo Products Corporation

Tour of Igloo Facility & Employee Town Hall



Brookshire's Grocery

Brookshire Grocery Company Tour & Employee Town Hall



Concerned Veterans for America

CVA Defend and Reform Town Hall


San Antonio


USAA Tour & Employee Town Hall



Concerned Veterans for America

CVA Defend and Reform Town Hall



Concerned Veterans for America

CVA Defend and Reform Town Hall



Southeast Texas office

Air Liquide Tour and Townhall with Employees



Tomball Chamber of Commerce

Tomball Chamber of Commerce Q&A



San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

San Antonio Hispanic Chamber Roundtable



Daikin, Inc.

Daikin Tour and Employee Town Hall



Atec, Inc.

Atec, Inc. Tour and Meeting with Employees


SOURCE: Chart provided by email from Phil Novack, press secretary to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Sept. 28, 2017

We also asked Novack to share 2017 events Cruz had in Texas that were open to the public without registration--where anyone could ask a question on any topic. Novack replied by email: "I appreciate your efforts to move the goalposts but we’ll stick with the premise of your original question to us" about town halls.

Experts evaluate Cruz's claim

Next, we shared our annotated version of the chart by email with academic experts and requested appraisals of Cruz’s statement that he’d done 17 "town halls."

Several deemed the claim inaccurate because most of the tallied events, especially meetings limited to business employees, weren’t forums open to all or likely to encourage wide-open questions and answers.

A Duquesne University professor, Mike Dillon, replied: "The term ‘town hall’ implies an event is open to the entire community and that competing ideas will be welcomed and discussed. It seems these town halls are open only to the people from the sections of ‘town’ that support Ted Cruz. These are scripted pseudo-events," Dillon wrote, "not genuine public forums."

Ashley Trim, a Pepperdine University administrator, agreed that an "employee town hall" is far from the original use of the "town hall" term. Still, Trim told us, it’s not uncommon for employers to have or host Q&A sessions and call them town halls.

But University of Alabama political scientist Joe Smith commented: "Employees know that their employer has arranged for and endorsed the visit, and that therefore assertive questions are not welcome." Smith elaborated: "Since employees depend on these employers for their livelihoods, they are not likely to be fully candid in expressing their views.  Also, attendees at this sort of gathering won’t feel able to bring up any topics they want to.  Topics are likely to be limited to those related to the employer’s business area." Smith said he’d rate the CVA-hosted events and possibly three chamber of commerce town halls as more wide-open.

Mark Rozell, a George Mason University dean, called the listed events mostly "quite different" from traditional open town halls held by members of Congress. "So it's apples and oranges here," Rozell said, adding: "The senator's office cannot just slap the label ‘town hall’ on site visits to factories and companies and then claim he's holding a lot of town halls. That's misleading."

Rozell later agreed there persists "no precise, legal definition of what constitutes a town hall. So I suppose the senator, or any other member, can play word games and try to label any gathering of a group of people a ‘town hall’ in an attempt to rebut criticism for holding too few town halls. But it doesn't pass the common sense test to call a factory visit or selected audience event a ‘town hall.’"

In contrast, Trim, who directs a Pepperdine public engagement institute, said Cruz’s use of the "town hall" term struck her as "valid within the common use of the term ‘town hall’ in 21st century America." After all, Trim reminded, town hall meetings have greatly evolved from their New England roots as community gatherings to set a hamlet’s course.

Mark Jones, a Rice University political scientist, said Cruz’s claim fits a "minimalist" definition of town hall in that they involved the senator speaking to, and fielding questions from, constituents from all walks of life across the state. But for a town hall "maximalist," Jones wrote, none of Cruz’s events would qualify as a town hall "because they were held in largely controlled settings and were not open to the general public" with the exception of the veterans gatherings open to people registering ahead of time.

John Gastil, a Penn State University professor, said that while the "town hall" term has lost clarity of definition over the years, he thinks Cruz’s claim was made to affirm his availability to the public. Gastil offered as keys to gauging the claim’s accuracy whether each event was open to the public and had an open agenda or one limited to a particular issue--and also whether members of the public at each event were allowed to speak and ask questions, with the senator proving responsive.

Gastil conceded he didn’t have time to fact-check the entire Cruz-provided list of events. But on their face, he wrote, "only a few seem worth checking further. Events held by and at private corporations wouldn't count as a town hall. Those sponsored by nongovernmental organizations have a better prospect of being town halls (e.g., chambers of commerce), but you'd need to see affirmative evidence" that they were open to the public and had an open agenda.

Cruz’s claim "strikes me as dubious," Gastil summed up. "Electeds do meet-and-greets with employees and other such things frequently, as part of their outreach, but it's disingenuous to call them ‘town halls.’"

Our ruling

Cruz, asked if he interacts enough with constituents, said: "In 2017, I’ve done 17 town halls" in Texas.

The listed events Cruz attended from April through August 2017 demonstrate that the term ‘town hall’ can be stretched every which way, even to events not open to the public. All told, it looks to us like Cruz took questions at gatherings of selected constituents, mostly business employees--with the three veterans events open to members of the public who registered.

We rate this claim Half True.

HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context. Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

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"In 2017, I've done 17 town halls."
Austin, Texas
Sunday, September 24, 2017

Our Sources

Emails, Phil Novack, press secretary, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Sept. 28-29 and Oct. 2, 2017

Dictionary definition of "town hall," Merriam Webster (accessed Oct. 3, 2017)

Press release, "Senator Ted Cruz visits Atec," ATEC, April 17, 2017

News story, "U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz tours plant, speaks in Waller County," KPRC, April 17, 2017

News story, "Ted Cruz touts small businesses, bashes Obamacare at Mi Tierra in San Antonio," San Antonio Express-News, April 18, 2017

Press releases,  U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, "Sen. Cruz Hosts Town Hall with Houston Industrial Supplier," June 1, 2017; "Sen. Cruz: USAA Champions Our Brave Servicemen and Women," July 6, 2017

Videos of Sen. Ted Cruz, Concerned Veterans for America, "Defend & Reform: Veterans and Military Town Hall in McKinney, Texas," July 5, 2017; Facebook Live video of event in Austin, July 6, 2017; "Defend & Reform: Veterans and Military Town Hall in Houston, Texas," July 8, 2017

News story, "U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz visits East Texas, talks health care and tax reform," Tyler Morning Telegraph, Aug. 4, 2017

Videos, Fox26 News, "Ted Cruz addressing Tomball Chamber of Commerce," May 19, 2017; Sen. Ted Cruz speaking at Igloo Products Corp., Fox26 News, Aug. 16, 2017 (Facebook post)

News story, "Senator Ted Cruz Visits Local Amarillo Business," KAMR, Aug. 18, 2017

News story, "Sen. Cruz visits New Braunfels promoting jobs," KXAN, Aug. 21, 2017

YouTube video snippet, "Senator Cruz Sits Down With Patrick R. Garcia of Division Laundry," Aug. 21, 2017

Facebook Live video of Sen. Ted Cruz speaking to San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, Aug. 21, 2017

News story, "Whirlwind tour: Sen. Ted Cruz talks about immigration, reducing regulations during visit," McAllen Monitor, Aug. 22, 2017

News stories, El Paso Times, "Sen. Cruz's schedule for El Paso visit Thursday, Friday," Aug. 23, 2017; "Sen. Ted Cruz hears Border Patrol agents' concerns as protests erupt outside meeting," Aug. 24, 2017

Story, "Plastic Molding Technology hosts Sen. Ted Cruz," Injection Molding, Aug. 27, 2017

Emails, Jim Fellinger, press secretary, Concerned Veterans for America, Sept. 29 and Oct. 4, 2017

Document, emails responding to PolitiFact Texas about Ted Cruz events described as Texas town halls, Oct. 3-4, 2017

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