Politics & Government

Everyone seems angry as Congress heads home

In this Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017, file photo, people react as U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz speaks during a town hall meeting at Brighton High School in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. Some attendees of the contentious town hall hosted by Chaffetz have sent the congressman fake invoices after he claimed some people there were paid protesters.
In this Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017, file photo, people react as U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz speaks during a town hall meeting at Brighton High School in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. Some attendees of the contentious town hall hosted by Chaffetz have sent the congressman fake invoices after he claimed some people there were paid protesters. AP

It’s going to be ugly for congressional lawmakers next week back home. If they go home.

Congress Friday begins its first extended recess – dubbed a “district work period” – since Donald Trump became president January 20. It returns to Washington February 27.

“As I’ve told our staff in the district, ‘Be prepared next week that we go home, everywhere we go there’s going to be droves of people coming out,’ ” said Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee.

The anger is bipartisan and bifurcated and has already erupted in town hall meetings and at local congressional offices over the past few weeks.

Democrats and liberals are upset about efforts by Trump and congressional Republicans to kill the Affordable Care Act, outraged over Trump’s immigration executive order, and irate over most of the president’s cabinet picks.

Sen. John McCain took to the Senate floor on Feb. 15, 2017 to speak in opposition of President Trump's pick for OMB director.

Republicans are slowly showing independent streaks. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos came within a single vote of not being confirmed by the Senate, and Andy Puzder, Trump’s first nominee for labor secretary, pulled out because he lacked enough Senate Republican support.

Vice President Mike Pence cast a tiebreaking vote for Betsy DeVos. It was the first time in U.S. history that a Cabinet secretary’s confirmation required a vice president’s tiebreaking vote to succeed.

While several lawmakers describe the protests as noise, Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen, a nonpartisan government watchdog group, said the furor back home will matter.

“People are clearly upset,” Holman said. “We have seen the impact on members of Congress – we have canceled town hall meetings. This is being talked about at kitchen tables throughout the country.”

When Congress returns, it has a lengthy list of more controversial confirmations, including Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court. And it plans to take a serious look at how to replace Obamacare and pay for a U.S.-Mexico wall.

In the last few weeks, something has changed. Trump wins the election and, kaboom, all of a sudden our phone lines and emails are lighting up.

Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va.

Yet a lot of Senate and House members won’t see much of their constituency.

Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, for example, will be out of the country on congressional business. His GOP colleague, Sen. Thom Tillis, will be on a congressional trip touring the U.S.-Mexican border.

Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida, will be among 16 congressional lawmakers attending the annual Munich Security Conference in Germany.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., has not set up office hours and currently has no public appearances scheduled. He, too, is scheduled to be out of the country. Blunt plans to speak at the GOP’s Lincoln Days in Springfield, Missouri February 25. Sen. Claire McCaskill, the Senate Homeland Security Committee's top Democrat, will be touring the U.S.-Mexico border next week.

Their absences won’t stop the protests at home.

In North Carolina, members of Indivisible Charlotte, an offshoot of a national group created after Trump’s election by former Democratic staffers, are planning to hold a Tillis-less town hall meeting next week after they say the senator repeatedly rebuffed the requests of Indivisible NC groups to attend a town hall.

“It’s going to be the very town hall that he should support to listen to his constituents, to hear what’s going on, to hear their concerns,” said Scott Huffman, 55, a Charlotte tech entrepreneur who formed Indivisible Charlotte.

On the other side you’re seeing people complain because they’re sad because they lost the election. . . . Get over it. Grow up and start making sure that your party becomes more representative, which is what we all did.

Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho

Daniel Keylin, a Tillis spokesman, said the senator effectively reaches constituents through the telephone town halls.

“In a large state like North Carolina with 10 million residents spread across 100 counties, telephone town halls are an effective way to reach thousands of constituents at a moment’s notice and have a deep, substantive conversation about policy issues and current events,” Keylin said.

Tillis’ views are widely shared among Republicans.

Many GOP lawmakers are dismissing the anticipated protests as little more than Democrats still bitter that Hillary Clinton lost to Trump, partisans encouraged by groups bankrolled by wealthy liberal donors.

“When you see ads out there for paid protesters, when you see the signs, they’re not made in someone’s living room, they’re printed up in different languages, this is a very different operation than one that came out of someone’s living room,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa.

Leigh Altman, a member of Indivisible Uptown Charlotte countered, “We’re not paid protesters, all of us are volunteering, that’s absurd.”

Democrats will hardly be immune from angry constituents.

Several have encountered protests and actions from liberal groups who feel that they aren’t doing enough to combat Trump’s agenda.

Still, several lawmakers are planning to deal with the protests head-on and in-person. Walker intends to be all over his district holding events.

“These are people that we represent in our district. I don’t buy into the fact that they’re always bused in from other locations,” he said. “We know these people, we see them at events, they’re entitled to speak their mind and we want to make sure that we give them the platform just like we do others.”

Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., is scheduled to hold a town hall with Indivisible Charleston on Saturday in Mt. Pleasant, S.C.

“I believe there’s a requirement for any of us who hold office to be available, whether we like what we hear or whether we don’t,” Sanford said. “I think we can learn irregardless of format, irregardless of the emotion of hearing someone else out.”

Lesley Clark, Anna Douglas, Sean Cockerham, Curtis Tate, Alex Daugherty, Lindsay Wise, Rob Hotakainen and Matthew Schofield contributed to this story.

William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas

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