Lawmakers. Town Halls. Advocacy-Group Rhetoric. It Must Be August.

Rep. Andy Harris, M.D., holds up a miniature copy of the Constitution during a rally against the Obama administration's health care law. 
National Journal
Michael Catalin
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Michael Catalin
Aug. 13, 2013, 3:30 p.m.

Voters raise their voices. Con­gress­men in shirtsleeves de­liv­er brom­ides. Ad­vocacy groups at­tempt to rally grass­roots act­iv­ists. It must be the Au­gust re­cess.

With Con­gress already in­to the second week of its five-week break, re­ports have be­gun to sur­face na­tion­wide of clashes between law­makers and act­iv­ists of all ideo­lo­gies. And while the ac­tion has per­haps been louder in years past, plenty of law­makers are get­ting an ear­ful.

One con­stitu­ent told Rep. Andy Har­ris, R-Md., that “we’re dy­ing out here” be­cause con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans were be­ing too “nice” to Pres­id­ent Obama.

Fresh­man Rep. Robert Pit­tenger, R-N.C., landed in the middle of a GOP feud when asked dur­ing a town hall if he backed a plan by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to de­fund Obama­care. Videos of the at-times heated ex­change got picked up in the me­dia — and that is of­ten the point.

Many ad­vocacy groups agit­ate at town-hall meet­ings and oth­er gath­er­ings, hop­ing that a well-placed ques­tion can gen­er­ate a firestorm on­line. For the groups, the tac­tic is about sharpen­ing their at­tacks and be­ing ag­gress­ive, said Amer­ic­ans United for Change spokes­wo­man Lauren Wein­er.

The group already scored once this sum­mer, when Leslie Boyd of Ashville, N.C., whose son had trouble get­ting in­sur­ance be­cause of a preex­ist­ing con­di­tion and who later died of can­cer, con­fron­ted Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., about his op­pos­i­tion to cer­tain pro­vi­sions of the Af­ford­able Care Act. The ques­tion­ing was caught on video and was pro­moted on­line.

“It’s not ne­ces­sar­ily about em­bar­rass­ing them but ask­ing them very poin­ted ques­tions, [telling them,] ‘You have to an­swer for these po­s­i­tions,’ ” Wein­er said.

Wein­er’s group has trans­formed an in­tern­al data­base of in­form­a­tion on Re­pub­lic­an town-hall meet­ings in­to a tool that the pub­lic can ac­cess. Ac­count­able­con­gress.com lets users search for events be­ing held by Re­pub­lic­an law­makers. The think­ing is that open­ing up the data­base will en­cour­age Demo­crats in Re­pub­lic­an dis­tricts to make an ap­pear­ance at a town-hall meet­ing, ask a ques­tion, and re­cord the law­maker’s re­sponse.

“What we’re see­ing is that mem­bers in very safe, very red dis­tricts are hold­ing more events, so we’re try­ing to get folks out to events to ask one or two ques­tions,” Wein­er said.

Con­ser­vat­ive groups are wad­ing in­to the same wa­ters as well. Free­dom Works, for ex­ample, is us­ing its site to en­cour­age users to share in­form­a­tion about law­makers’ town halls and post­ing the res­ults.

Some con­ser­vat­ive groups are fo­cused on in­flu­en­cing Re­pub­lic­an law­makers to ad­opt Lee’s ap­proach to Obama­care. Lee wants Re­pub­lic­ans to agree not to fund the gov­ern­ment, and to block­ing a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion to do so, un­less the Af­ford­able Care Act is en­tirely de­fun­ded.

Her­it­age Ac­tion is lead­ing what it’s billing as a “De­fund Obama­care Town Hall Tour,” led by Her­it­age Found­a­tion Pres­id­ent Jim De­Mint, the former tea-party sen­at­or. The nine-stop tour be­gins next Monday in Fay­etteville, Ark., and tea-party Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, one of Lee’s lead­ing al­lies in the Sen­ate, is ex­pec­ted to join the tour at its stop in Dal­las.

Even be­fore that tour began, Pit­tenger was asked at a town hall wheth­er he would vote to de­fund Obama­care and flatly answered no when pressed to give a simple an­swer. Later, he sug­ges­ted such a pro­pos­al would not make it through the Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate, an ar­gu­ment Re­pub­lic­ans like Sens. Tom Coburn of Ok­lahoma and Bob Cork­er of Ten­ness­ee have like­wise made about Lee’s pro­pos­al.

The battle to dom­in­ate the mes­sage wars in Au­gust — and the li­ab­il­ity that comes with an open mi­cro­phone — may have some law­makers back­ing away from town-hall-style events. While fig­ures were not avail­able in­dic­at­ing how many law­makers held events this year, a No La­bels sur­vey from 2011 showed that only 44 per­cent planned to sched­ule meet­ings that year.

The sur­vey fol­lowed a par­tic­u­larly heated sum­mer in 2009, when meet­ings in some cases turned vi­ol­ent, and the tea party began to gain a polit­ic­al foothold. In the town-hall va­cu­um that fol­lowed, some law­makers moved in­stead to so-called tele-town halls, which gave them the abil­ity to screen ques­tions more ef­fect­ively than they can at live events.

That dy­nam­ic, in turn, ex­plains why some com­ment­at­ors have be­gun to call for the end of town halls as we knew them.

“The In­ter­net, 24/7 cable news, and re­lent­less op­er­at­ives in these po­lar­ized, high-volume times have turned meet­ing rooms in­to stages,” wrote Chica­go Tribune colum­nist Eric Zorn. “And con­gres­sion­al rep­res­ent­at­ives who want to get a handle on what their con­stitu­ents really think in­stead of simply get­ting an ear­ful need to get off their — how to put it nicely? — chairs, walk around and ask.”

What We're Following See More »
TWO MONTHS AFTER REFUSING AT CONVENTION
Cruz to Back Trump
2 days ago
THE LATEST
WHO TO BELIEVE?
Two Polls for Clinton, One for Trump
2 days ago
THE LATEST

With three days until the first debate, the polls are coming fast and furious. The latest round:

  • An Associated Press/Gfk poll of registered voters found very few voters committed, with Clin­ton lead­ing Trump, 37% to 29%, and Gary John­son at 7%.
  • A Mc­Clatchy-Mar­ist poll gave Clin­ton a six-point edge, 45% to 39%, in a four-way bal­lot test. Johnson pulls 10% support, with Jill Stein at 4%.
  • Rasmussen, which has drawn criticism for continually showing Donald Trump doing much better than he does in other polls, is at it again. A new survey gives Trump a five-point lead, 44%-39%.
NO SURPRISE
Trump Eschewing Briefing Materials in Debate Prep
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

In contrast to Hillary Clinton's meticulous debate practice sessions, Donald Trump "is largely shun­ning tra­di­tion­al de­bate pre­par­a­tions, but has been watch­ing video of…Clin­ton’s best and worst de­bate mo­ments, look­ing for her vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies.” Trump “has paid only curs­ory at­ten­tion to brief­ing ma­ter­i­als. He has re­fused to use lecterns in mock de­bate ses­sions des­pite the ur­ging of his ad­visers. He prefers spit­balling ideas with his team rather than hon­ing them in­to crisp, two-minute an­swers.”

Source:
TRUMP NO HABLA ESPANOL
Trump Makes No Outreach to Spanish Speakers
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Donald Trump "is on the precipice of becoming the only major-party presidential candidate this century not to reach out to millions of American voters whose dominant, first or just preferred language is Spanish. Trump has not only failed to buy any Spanish-language television or radio ads, he so far has avoided even offering a translation of his website into Spanish, breaking with two decades of bipartisan tradition."

Source:
$1.16 MILLION
Clintons Buy the House Next Door in Chappaqua
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Bill and Hillary Clinton have purchased the home next door to their primary residence in tony Chappaqua, New York, for $1.16 million. "By purchasing the new home, the Clinton's now own the entire cul-de-sac at the end of the road in the leafy New York suburb. The purchase makes it easier for the United States Secret Service to protect the former president and possible future commander in chief."

Source:
×