Quipping he felt “like I’m back in the classroom,” Rep. Paul Cook answered questions for nearly an hour Wednesday evening in an unorthodox telephone town hall, breezing through inquiries from deferential constituents on Russia, health care, the budget and President Donald Trump’s legacy wall.

Quipping he felt “like I’m back in the classroom,” Rep. Paul Cook answered questions for nearly an hour Wednesday evening in an unorthodox telephone town hall, breezing through inquiries from deferential constituents on Russia, health care, the budget and President Donald Trump’s legacy wall.

If Indivisible activists, who have continuously pressed for an in-person town hall, were on the line, they either didn’t have questions or they weren’t called on. Yet some who asked questions expressed concern about stalled GOP promises or outside threats even as they praised the Congressman.

Cook, R-Apple Valley, acknowledged he had been “undecided for a long while” on the American Health Care Act — one of Trump’s most biting early losses — that was pulled last week after it became clear that the votes weren’t there.

Cook said that Republicans had been “playing beat the clock” to repeal and replace the “flawed” Obamacare, but he admitted the proposed alternative didn’t correlate to the “comprehensive replacement plan” that was needed.

“I didn’t just want to pull the plug on it and not have a safety net for all those people” who’d be negatively affected, he said. “This is probably one of the most important pieces of legislation that’s going to be acted on and we have to do it right.”

Ultimately, it came down to: “I think we needed more time.”

But Cook didn’t believe that failure to galvanize support for the bill would create a ripple effect on tax reform, Trump’s next big agenda item, as some have suggested.

“It’s still one of the top priorities,” he said. “It’s gotta be simplified. It’s gotta be done correctly, so we can make it more efficient.”

Tax reform, however, is only Cook’s number two current priority behind passing a federal budget by April 28 and avoiding a government shutdown.

“The consequences will be devastating,” he said, “if we don’t get some kind of bi-partisan support.”

He welcomed the proposed increase in defense and national security spending, but not much else, saying he was “disappointed” in the draft budget as a whole.

“I’m not happy with the proposed social aspects of the budget there,” he added, referring in part to the cuts that would impact the Meals on Wheels food program for seniors.

On Trump’s proposed Mexican border wall, Cook said he believed “that’s part of the answer,” but more financial and technological investment for border patrol agents was equally critical.

He also said he was “100 percent” against California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon’s legislative push to turn California into a sanctuary state.

“I think it’ll be a huge, huge mistake,” he said.

He has often addressed Russian meddling and interference and on Wednesday he reiterated that it was “a serious problem.”

“It’s the new hybrid warfare if you will,” he said, where the Russian government employs various forms of media — online or television — to advance its agenda.

He also suggested that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who’s been living in Russia, was “probably” advising President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials.

No questions addressed Tuesday’s controversial GOP party-line vote to repeal FCC online privacy protections.

As a government so far under the Trump administration, Cook acknowledged there have “been a lot of distractions,” although he deflected partial blame to outsiders and the press.

“We’ve got to find those areas where we agree what our national agenda is,” he concluded. “There’s no excuse ... This is our chance to get it right. If we don’t, shame on us.”

Shea Johnson can be reached at 760-955-5368 or SJohnson@VVDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter at@DP_Shea.