Congress is on recess for the first time during Donald Trump’s presidency, and members from both parties are traveling the country, making grand speeches and finding excuses not to take questions from angry constituents at town hall meetings.
But Democratic Rep. Marc Veasey spent Thursday morning at the VA outpatient clinic in Fort Worth, Texas, on his hands and knees scrubbing a toilet, methodically cleaning the bowl and seat while chatting about the first month of Trump’s presidency.
“He’s being very conscientious,” said Debera Sturns-Miller, 56, who was supervising Veasey’s somewhat slow but very detailed janitorial effort, with a laugh.
Veasey was working as a custodian with Kemp & Sons General Services, a black-owned Fort Worth business, as part of his monthly “Marc Means Business” initiative. Kemp & Sons provides custodial services to the Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in southeast Fort Worth and other businesses in the Metroplex.
“Not a bad mirror, huh?” Veasey asked rhetorically as he finished cleaning a bathroom. “The long arms help.”
Larry Kemp, the owner of Kemp & Sons, was on hand at the beginning of Veasey’s shift at the VA clinic and said the congressman was “instrumental” in keeping 25 custodial workers employed there.
“We’re a big supporter of Marc,” Kemp said. “We have fundraisers and we traveled to Washington to watch him get sworn in when he was first elected.”
Other locals will get the chance to talk with Veasey early Friday, when he holds a gathering at an eatery in Dallas.
Veasey is the only member of Tarrant County’s congressional delegation to hold public face-to-face meetings with constituents during the recess, as pressure mounts on Republicans to hold open, town hall-style events where voters can ask questions. Republicans Kay Granger, Joe Barton, Roger Williams, Michael Burgess and Kenny Marchant have not held public forums with constituents while Congress is on break.
“People are genuinely upset,” Veasey said. “The fact that Trump painted such a dystopian view of our country and showed no interest in putting people together is what started the protests. He kept his foot on the pedal and the people protesting are everyday Americans, they own small businesses.”
Republicans argue that town hall events are being hijacked by liberal activists who may or may not be actual constituents, and the few Republicans who held public events this week were routinely harangued by protesters and questioned harshly by voters. Last week, a group in Austin addressed a cardboard cutout of Rep. Roger Williams since he declined to take questions in public.
“It’s clear that civil, substantive discourse on issues is not their true agenda,” Williams spokesman Vince Zito said of the event in Austin.
But Veasey said it’s part of the job for members to take tough questions.
“Elected officials want to paint everyone with a broad brush,” Veasey said. “What they don’t get is that everyone pays bills. Liberal activists pay bills. Conservative activists pay bills. Independents pay bills. Republicans, they’re missing that and it stems from the president not pulling the country together.”
Veasey said he took public questions at a senior center in Dallas earlier this week and he will hold a “coffee with your congressman” event at Tia Dora’s restaurant in Dallas on Friday morning from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Veasey said the coffee events normally draw a few people in an intimate setting where “people see me sitting down instead of standing up” but he expects a much larger crowd on Friday. The event will function like a town hall.
“People are eager to ask questions and people told me they’re going to stop in before they head to work,” Veasey said.
Sturns-Miller, a downtown Fort Worth resident in Republican Rep. Kay Granger’s district, is disappointed that her representative in Washington isn’t publicly available during the recess.
“It’s amazing that he’s so accessible,” Sturns-Miller said of Veasey. “I haven’t seen or heard much from Kay.”
Marc Veasey’s “coffee with your congressman” event will take place at Tia Dora’s Bakery from 7:30 to 9 a.m. on Friday. The bakery is located at 2478 W Illinois Ave., Dallas, Texas, 75233.