Despite a campaign by some constituents, U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert is refusing to attend any in-person town halls. It’s part of a trend of some Republican members of Congress shying away from the events in light of anti-Trump protests.
U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert says he tries hard to be available to constituents in the Washington’s 8th Congressional District.
The Auburn Republican and his staff have hosted telephone town halls, met with critics and sought to respond to a massive surge in phone calls. Next Thursday, he’ll field questions during a Facebook Live event hosted by KCTS-9.
What Reichert refuses to do — despite a push by many in his district — is show up and answer questions in person at a traditional town-hall meeting.
Reichert, who declined to be interviewed for this story, views such gatherings — a time-honored practice for many in Congress — as pointlessly chaotic.
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“Over the years town halls have disintegrated into shouting matches with no productive results and in some cases put attendees and staff at risk,” he said in an emailed statement. “I encourage anyone who would like to meet with me or my staff to contact my office any time.”
He’s not alone. Across the country, other Republican members of Congress reportedly have scaled back or canceled town halls after some encountered hostile crowds and chants from protesters.
With Congress on a break next week, representatives are facing increased pressure to meet with voters who want to challenge them on President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown, Cabinet picks and revelations about the Trump campaign’s pre-election contacts with Russia.
The push in large part has been organized by Democratic activists promoting resistance to the Trump administration. Some Republicans have accused them of being more interested in creating viral “YouTube moments” than getting answers to questions.
None of Washington’s four Republican U.S. House members has advertised upcoming town halls — though some, unlike Reichert, have held them regularly in the past.
The 2017 pressure on Republicans in some ways mirrors 2009, when it was Democrats facing wrathful town halls packed with activists of the budding tea-party movement, spurred by anger over the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
That summer, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, took health-care questions for two hours at a minor-league-baseball stadium from a raucous crowd of nearly 3,000.
Former U.S. Rep. Brian Baird remembers the period well. A Democrat who represented Southwest Washington from 1999 to 2011, Baird says he held some 350 town-hall sessions during his time in office.
During the tea-party heyday, he said it was clear some activists wanted to shut down meetings instead of engage in debate.
“It required us to reset and figure out how to do them,” Baird said. “But even when things were very, very difficult, I still did them.”
Some people who live in Reichert’s district have been repeatedly calling his office to demand he face that kind of in-person grilling.
“Right now I’m just wondering, what’s he so afraid of?” said Christina Finley, of Sammamish, one of those who has been pressing Reichert. “His staff has been perfectly nice and patient but the statements he has made so far … they’ve been underwhelming.”
Robin Buxton, who lives near Covington, also has been leaving messages for Reichert.
Like Finley, she hasn’t been a supporter of the Republican but believes he still ought to be willing to field her in-person questions. She wants him to explain a party-line committee vote this week that rejected a request by Democrats to seek Trump’s tax returns from the Treasury Department.
“My hope, I guess idealistically, is that I could walk away with a better feeling that my representative, when it comes right down to it … would be thinking more about country and less about party,” Buxton said.
The practice of holding town halls varies widely among Washington’s delegation.
Both of Washington’s U.S. senators, Democrats Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, have long avoided town halls in favor of controlled and scripted public events in front of friendly audiences.
Since 2013, Larsen has held the most in-person town halls — 42 in all — among the state’s U.S. House members, according to Legistorm, a nonpartisan firm that tracks data about Congress. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, and Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, each have held 30 or more.
Among the state’s U.S. House members, Reichert stands alone in holding zero in-person town halls over that period, according to Legistorm. His district includes the eastern portions of King and Pierce counties and extends over the Interstate 90 corridor into Chelan and Kittitas counties.
A former King County sheriff, Reichert earlier this month advised House GOP colleagues on ways to beef up security at offices and public events in light of the new wave of protests.
In an interview with Politico, Reichert said he told representatives in a closed-door GOP conference meeting to make sure they have backdoor escape routes in their offices and to install hard doors instead of glass ones that can shatter.
“The world is sometimes not a friendly place,” he said in the Politico interview, citing the 2011 shooting of Democratic Congresswoman Gabby Giffords at a public event in Arizona. He added there was “a mission” among some to “disrupt the offices of certain members … to make us look inaccessible, unresponsive and like we’re not doing anything.”
The conference meeting, organized by McMorris Rodgers, was called after well-publicized disturbances at some recent GOP town halls.
In Utah, hundreds chanted “Do your job!” at Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who heads the House Oversight Committee, slamming his reluctance to pursue investigations of the Trump administration. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., was escorted out of a recent town hall by police after facing a rowdy crowd but has nevertheless scheduled two more town halls for next week.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Vancouver, faced hard questioning from some in her Southwest Washington district at a town hall last month. Voters there demanded to know details on the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.
A spokeswoman said Herrera Beutler has no more town halls currently scheduled but would continue to keep in touch with constituents through other means, such as phone calls, social media and community events.
In Spokane, McMorris Rodgers was booed by some while speaking last month at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event. Protesters chanted “save our health care,” according to The Spokesman-Review newspaper.
Some Democrats are planning upcoming town halls, including Kilmer, who has announced events next week in Tacoma and Bremerton, and two more in March.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, who regularly holds town halls, plans a March 4 event in Southeast Seattle and has scheduled four more for later in the year. A spokesman for Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, said she is in the process of planning two for March.
The Seattle area’s newest member of Congress, Democrat Pramila Jayapal, has not yet scheduled a town hall but held an open house at her district office.
Meanwhile, Reichert’s Facebook Live event is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23. The event will be moderated by veteran journalist Enrique Cerna, who said he will choose questions submitted by viewers.
Protesters are planning a march to Reichert’s Issaquah office on Tuesday over his refusal to conduct a live town hall.
Baird, the former congressman, argues that telephone or internet events are fine as a supplement — but are no substitute for face-to-face sessions.
“Members of Congress should not be in some distant ivory tower that you can’t come hear from us,” he said.