With partisan tensions at an all-time high, Republicans and Democrats faced angry protesters at town halls across the country during the recent Congressional recess. Constituents expressed concern about a number of President Trump’s policies, though the main issue discussed was the repeal and replacement of Obamacare.
Some GOP lawmakers elected not to meet with constituents at all, citing safety concerns. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas released a statement that cited an act of violence against Rep. Gabby Giffords in 2011. The statement read in part: “[T]he House Sergeant at Arms advised us after former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot at a public appearance, that civilian attendees at Congressional public events stand the most chance of being harmed or killed.”
While members of Congress are under intense scrutiny for their town hall appearances, or lack thereof, they have generally been avoiding holding town halls for a few years. For example, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rarely holds public meetings. A recent one in February required attendees to pay for a ticket. Across the aisle, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has only held one town hall meeting since January 2015.
In response to the uproar, the White House and GOP lawmakers are claiming that the town halls are not legitimate and those who are attend are “professional protesters and liberal activists.” This is a familiar complaint. In 2009, facing criticism over health care reform plans, Democrats avoided town halls and then Speaker Pelosi famously said that the protesters were not grass roots but fake “astroturf.”
While the hyper-partisanship is not likely to go away anytime soon, all eyes will be on both parties in Congress as they look for compromises and ways to work together for the betterment of all American citizens.