Are some Republicans in Congress hiding from constituents by refusing to hold town hall meetings on such vitally important topics as the future of the Affordable Care Act or immigration enforcement?
Or are these busy elected officials simply resisting calls from a small group of what President Trump called “sad” liberal activists looking for an opportunity to publicly excoriate them, and opting for more productive — and controlled — methods of constituent engagement?
Probably it’s a little of both. After hundreds of angry people showed up for the town halls held this month by two Republican congressman — Reps. Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) — critics have made a lot of hay over the fact that few GOP members are planning to hold town halls or other public meetings while they’re back in their districts.
This includes California Republicans, a number of whom have opted for public conference calls — despite pressure for in-person meetings from constituents and liberal groups such as Indivisible, which have adopted Tea Party-like tactics to express their displeasure with Washington.
To his credit, McClintock hasn’t shied away from public meetings despite requiring a police escort to leave a recent town hall in Roseville. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), on the other hand, have ignored requests for such get-togethers. (Issa does get some credit for meeting with protestors outside his office on Tuesday, though this is not a substitute for regularly scheduled public meetings.)
Holding town halls meetings may not be essential to the job, but hearing from the public is. At a time that’s uniquely terrifying to many Americans, the public has few entries into the the halls of power other than through the individuals they elect to represent them in Washington. Lawmakers have a duty to explain their actions to the people they represent, supporters or not.
Members of Congress must find ways to engage constituents honestly — and no, holding a faux town hall by phone is not honest engagement. It may be uncomfortable and unpleasant at times, but if they can’t handle it, they ought not be in public office.
1:40 p.m. This editorial has been updated to include information about Issa meeting with demonstrators outside his office on Tuesday.