Editorials

GOP members of Congress duck the heat of town hall meetings

In this Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017 photo, people react as U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz speaks during a town hall meeting at Brighton High School in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. Some attendees of the contentious town hall hosted by Chaffetz last week, have sent the congressman fake invoices after he claimed some people there were paid protesters.
In this Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017 photo, people react as U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz speaks during a town hall meeting at Brighton High School in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. Some attendees of the contentious town hall hosted by Chaffetz last week, have sent the congressman fake invoices after he claimed some people there were paid protesters. AP

Oh, how members of Congress love to talk about getting “back home” to talk to their constituents. These days, that seems for some about as sincere as a movie star who claims to learn from bad reviews.

Around the country, more members of Congress, particularly Republicans, seem reluctant to hold “town hall” meetings where they face questions from their constituents. There was at least one instance of a congressmen being led out by security, and others where boos drowned out comments from a senator or representative.

Maybe some Democrats and independents are learning from Trump’s supporters how to practice “in your face” politics. But that doesn’t mean elected officials should avoid such encounters — in particular Republicans, who seemed to enjoy it when tea partyers liked to angrily confront Democratic incumbents or candidates.

A favorite topic at what town halls there are is the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. But now Trump, who promised its repeal, is in the White House, and there’s a different side of the story coming out as incumbents from Congress go home. Republicans are running into angry crowds wondering — loudly — just what’s going to replace “Obamacare” and what Republicans are doing about it. Their run-on issue, which was more about focusing anger on President Obama than it was about the issue itself, has come back to bite them.

In North Carolina, Republicans Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis along with 4th District Rep. David Price are out of state on government business during the current break, and 2nd District Rep. George Holding — like Price, from the Triangle — hasn’t been commenting. Price did hold a public forum earlier this month. It’s nothing new for “town hall” meetings with constituents to turn raucous. Price endured more than a few in 1994, when Newt Gingrich led a GOP revolution that toppled Price (who got his seat back two years later) and others.

Give Tillis, who hasn’t accomplished much in his first Senate term, credit at least for saying candidly in a letter to constituents who asked for a town hall meeting that some individuals “attend town halls just to create disruptions and media spectacles.” That, Tillis wrote, means “only the loudest voices in the room can be heard...” What he says is true in many cases, but that doesn’t mean that a crowd’s reaction in a town hall meeting can’t send a senator or representative a message he or she needs to hear. Sometimes, publicly elected officials have an obligation to take the heat.

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