During this year's congressional recess, many lawmakers kept the tradition of holding town halls across the country. In many of these events, Republican lawmakers had to face angry citizens who were upset their representatives weren't doing enough to hold President Donald Trump accountable. Seeing the backlash, some elected officials like Senator Marco Rubio (R-TX) preferred to refrain from showing their faces. That's because they were afraid of being humiliated in public by their own constituents.
This problem kept many voters from having access to their lawmakers — especially because they were left unable to voice concerns to those who were elected to speak on their behalf in Washington.
Now, constituents are bringing the town halls to them instead.
1. Most of the people attending are concerned constituents. 2. If you can't handle these engagements, then this isn't the right job for you. https://t.co/1ekDfpHJ6H— Justin Amash (@justinamash) February 26, 2017
Republican Represenatives Lloyd Smucker, Pat Meehan, Charlie Dent, and Ryan Costello from Pennsylvania had been able to avoid holding their own town halls in recent months in what was dubbed the “Resistance recess.” But this week, a group of activists known as Keystone Progress — a progressive grassroots organization — headed to a local chamber of commerce event hoping to hold a spontaneous meeting. They reserved a room in the same hotel where the 3 p.m. event was being hosted. Unfortunately, the scheme failed.
The plan was to have voters approach the lawmakers as they left the event and request they attend the town hall organized by the voters just 100 feet away. But the politicians shamelessly left without interacting with their constituents. Only Costello spoke to a few, shaking hands and asking how they were doing — to which an activist replied, "Oh, you do exist!”
By 2:30 p.m., about 150 activists had gathered outside of the hotel. They chanted “do your job” as the chamber of commerce meeting was about to start. One of the constituents in attendance had a large papier mache Donald Trump head while others had signs referencing the president's health care and immigration plans. But in most signs, voters simply demanded that lawmakers hold town hall events.
At 4 p.m., activists filled the hotel ballroom reserved by the group. Inside, everything was set up for a town hall, with name cards for each of the four congressmen set out on the stage. They had planned to let lawmakers know that if they come in, they won't scream. “We will listen to you,” Michael Morrill, the executive director of Keystone Progress said.
According to a staff member working for Costello, people filming the event could use the footage to paint the congressman in a bad light since he would be caught doing “funny faces.” That's not enough of a reason to dodge your voters, sir!
Bernie Hines Corbit, who lives in Costello's district, wasn't able to meet with the congressman but his district director, Kori Walter, did stop by to speak to her. As long as no one filmed the event, Walter told Corbit, the idea of the town hall wasn't all bad.
“It’s not the constituents that are the issue. It’s other folks who are here with cameras and use that footage for other purposes other than having a discussion,” he told the activist. Instead, people use the footage “for, you know, people close their eyes and do funny faces.”
He told Corbit he would discuss the idea with Costello and then entered the room. The district director never came back.
Ten minutes later, the hotel manager announced that all congressmen had left the room.
Katey Dyck, 36, brought her “little congressman bait,” her two children. She was selected to approach Meehan, who represents her district. As she and her children took position outside the chamber of commerce meeting, the hotel manager approached and told her the lawmaker had already left the hotel.
A Costello spokesman told The Guardian that the lawmaker “offered to meet with the protesters but they declined. They do not wish to have an open and honest dialog. Their goal is to cause a scene and get it on camera.”