While Republicans have made headlines for dodging town-hall meetings, Washington’s Democratic U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell have long avoided them too.
It’s not just Republican members of Congress who have been ducking town halls, despite a chorus of demand from constituents.
Washington’s Democratic U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray also have avoided the open forums.
Tired of waiting, a local activist group has organized one for them.
Seattle Indivisible plans a town-hall meeting Saturday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Seattle Unity Church, 200 Eighth Ave. N. The senators have been invited but have declined, citing other plans.
Regardless, the event will go on, with attendees discussing how to fight President Donald Trump’s agenda, said Alex Fayer, one of the organizers.
Hundreds of people have shown interest in attending, leading the group to change its originally planned location to the larger church, which has a seating capacity of about 650.
The tenor of the Seattle town hall is likely to differ from liberal activists’ ire at Republican members of Congress, including Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, whose office was picketed by hundreds of protesters on Thursday.
“First off, we like our senators — they are fighting hard on our behalf,” Fayer said, adding that discussions with the politicians’ staff have been cordial.
But he said many people are alarmed by the Trump administration and want to hear directly from their senators about what they’re doing to resist it.
Cantwell and Murray also have faced criticism from Democrats over their votes to confirm some Trump’s Cabinet picks — and votes against a proposal aimed at making it easier to import inexpensive prescription drugs from Canada.
Seattle’s Indivisible group is part of the national movement created by liberal activists after Trump’s election. The effort got its name from a guide written by former Democratic congressional staffers on ways to effectively oppose the new administration’s agenda.
Fayer said the group has held regular vigils outside the downtown federal building and asked Murray and Cantwell to take time during this week’s recess to attend the town hall.
“We don’t believe this is a normal time in history right now … we expect our elected representatives to not treat it like it’s a normal time in history,” he said.
Meeting with reporters this week in Olympia, Murray said she currently does not have a town hall scheduled, but returns to the state most weekends and speaks regularly with constituents.
“I do spend a lot of time, and I am this week, going out and talking to people where they work, and you know, what’s happening to them, listening to stories. We’re getting so many letters and phone calls and mail,” Murray said. “I am doing everything I can to stay in touch with as many people as possible.”
Murray also argued that it’s easier for U.S. House members to hold town halls, given their smaller districts.
Cantwell spokesman Bryan Watt said the senator’s office only received this week’s town-hall invitation late Sunday. He said Cantwell won’t be able to make it, citing another scheduled event.
“We have not ruled out holding a town hall. It’s something we continue to look into,” he said.
Over the years, Cantwell and Murray have not been fans of open town-hall events, instead favoring controlled roundtable discussions and media events at selected friendly businesses or institutions.
Murray, elected to a fifth term in November, has held one event classified as an in-person town hall since mid-2013, according to Legistorm, a firm that tracks information about members of Congress and their staffs. Cantwell, now serving her third term, has held zero.
By contrast, some other senators make town halls a regular part of their job, including some in the Northwest.
In Oregon, Sen. Jeff Merkley has participated in 105 town halls and Sen. Ron Wyden has held 88 since Legistorm began tracking the events in August 2013. Both are Democrats.
In Idaho, Republican Sen. Mike Crapo is credited with 192 town halls over the same period.
In an interview on CNN this week, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who Legistorm credits with 45 town halls since mid-2013, blasted politicians who avoid the events.
“If you don’t have the guts to face your constituents, then you shouldn’t be in the United States Congress,” Sanders said, who focused his ire on GOP representatives who are moving to repeal the Affordable Care Act while dodging town halls.
Murray, in a recent email to supporters, urged them to remember her 2017 motto: “Don’t ask me how I’m doing, ask me what I’m doing.”
Fayer and other local activists would like to hear Murray and Cantwell answer that question in person.
“All they have to do is show up,” he said.