Republican Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois has a safe seat in Congress. So what’s he running from?
First, supporters of the Affordable Care Act showed up at his office for a previously scheduled meeting with his staff. But the 16 of them were turned away when Roskam staffers discovered they were accompanied by a reporter, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Next, Roskam went to the Palatine Township Republican Organization’s monthly meeting, billed as open to all. But organizers shut out the general public because of intense interest. With hundreds of protesters massed outside, Roskam left through a back door. Some people chased on foot after his fleeing car.
Then, Roskam announced he would hold a “telephone town hall meeting” instead of the real thing. “I have no plans to have one of these big, sort of circus meetings,” he said, informing WGN’s Rick Pearson that he’s always thought “those larger meetings are just not productive.”
They certainly aren’t productive for Roskam and his fellow Republicans – not now, anyway. An early backlash against the Trump presidency has led to many verbal confrontations between Republican lawmakers and the citizenry. President Trump’s face plant since the inauguration – most recently the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn over dealings with Russia – is only making matters worse.
As recent town hall meetings of GOP Reps. Jason Chaffetz, Utah, Tom McClintock, Calif., Gus Bilirakis, Fla., Diane Black, Tenn., and others turn into well-publicized tongue lashings, their colleagues are ducking and running.
Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., canceled a constituent event in Southampton Village scheduled for April; his office told the Southampton Press they feared he would be harassed again by those who rallied at his recent appearance at a Rotary Club.
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., was caught on video slipping out of his own community event last month before its scheduled ending time. Coffman’s office told KUSA that the congressman had planned to have a series of one-on-one meetings, not a town hall event. The result: Scores were still waiting for Coffman in the lobby when he left via an unmarked exit.
In California, McClintock left his town hall meeting with a police escort. “It’s the first time I’ve ever had a police department have to extract me from a town hall, and I’ve done well over 100 of them,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
The scene is reminiscent of the tea party summer of 2009, but the energy is on the other side this time. Now, as then, the victims say the perpetrators are outsiders – Chaffetz said those who protested him included “paid” people from out of state, an echo of Nancy Pelosi’s claim of “astroturfing” – but now, as then, the anger is real.
Trump has become increasingly toxic, with Flynn’s resignation and other Russia revelations, the travel ban struck down in court, chaos involving Obamacare, attacks on the federal judiciary and a series of bizarre pronouncements on everything from Ivanka Trump’s fashion line to Frederick Douglass. The Post’s Sean Sullivan and Ed O’Keefe found Republican members of Congress increasingly wary of defending Trump. “You can’t make it up,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said after Trump was seen in Facebook photos making sensitive national security decisions in his Mar-a-Lago Club’s main dining area.
Trump canceled an event in Milwaukee because his would-be host, Harley-Davidson, feared protests. The White House just canceled a visit to Ohio that had been scheduled for Thursday; no reason was given, but protests had been planned.
Even congressional aides have felt demonstrators’ wrath. Staffers for Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue and Rep. Jody Hice, all Georgia Republicans, were met by hundreds of protesters last week in Greensboro, Georgia, for what was supposed to be a “mobile office hours” event to help constituents with bureaucratic matters.
And so others are retreating. A Feb. 21 “town hall” scheduled with Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., at the Fairview City Hall was removed from the host’s website. Fairview’s mayor told CNN the session would instead be a “low-key” gathering.
Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., in response to a question from WGRZ television, declared that he wouldn’t have a town hall meeting, because of “demonstrators who come and shout you down and heckle you.”
Then there’s Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, whose office this week edited his Wikipedia entry to remove a recently added line claiming Tiberi “has steadfastly refused to hold a townhall meeting to discuss healthcare reform with his constituents.”
His office, confirming its role in the Wikipedia editing, said Tiberi is instead offering to meet with the protesters in small groups – and in private.
Dana Milbank is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.
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