COOPER: GOP Members of Congress Retreat From Constituents

Louie Gohmert
Rep. Louie Gohmert (Courtesy photo)

Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, in a pathetic attempt to explain why he did not hold town hall meetings during the recent Congressional recess, stated, “The House Sergeant at Arms advised us after Congresswoman Giffords was shot at a public appearance, that civilian attendees at congressional public events stand the most chance of being armed or killed, just as happened there.”

Gohmert plans to only hold “telephone town halls” until the “threats of violence” decreases. What the congressman conveniently does not mention is that the attack on former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords occurred in January 2011.

In response, Giffords said, “To the politicians who have abandoned their civic obligations, I say this. Have some courage. Face your constituents. Hold town halls. I was shot on a Saturday morning. By Monday morning, my offices were open to the public. Ron Barber — at my side that Saturday, who was shot multiple times, then elected to Congress in my stead — held town halls. It’s what the people deserve in a representative.”

I have worked for three members of Congress. My responsibilities afforded me numerous opportunities to accompany them to meetings in Washington and the district. On more than one occasion, I even represented them at both public and private events. Truthfully, I never considered myself, or the representative, to be at risk of any physical danger. That thinking changed with the Giffords tragedy.

Since that shooting, I have reflected about such risks for members and staffers. My position has not changed from what it was before that Saturday morning in Tucson: If you are too afraid to face your constituents, then you no longer deserve to be in Congress and should immediately resign. Public service is not your calling.

Gohmert was re-elected last November and has been in Congress since 2005. Was he concerned about his physical safety during any previous campaigns or public appearances? Apparently not.

It should be both expected and demanded by the public that when Congress is not in session, representatives should spend time in their districts with constituents. That is how a Member stays connected to the community. More importantly, it is how constituents are kept abreast of developments in Washington and how such policies and decisions are impacting the district, both positively and negatively.

During the recess, Gohmert and other Republicans, including Sens. Mitch McConnell, Chuck Grassley and Marco Rubio, were greeted with protests in their home districts. Angry constituents vented their frustrations over issues ranging from Russian intervention in November’s election to the GOP’s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act to the Trump administration’s proposed travel ban.

These town halls also repeatedly found Republicans hedging their support for the president’s agenda and, in many instances, contradicting past statements. Sen. Tom Cotton admits that Obamacare “has helped Arkansans.” Grassley now supports the release of the president’s tax returns. Rep. David Brat agrees that an investigation into Russian hacking should “follow the rule of law wherever it leads.”

Reacting to these confrontations in Republican districts, the president tweeted, “The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!”

Mr. President, you may be right about some of these protesters, but certainly not all or even a majority. And frankly, your point is irrelevant. What is at issue here are Americans exercising their constitutional right to confront their elected officials and demand answers. To hold their elected officials accountable for the positions they take on supporting, or not supporting, your policies. That is what makes America great, not your tweets.

“Telephone town halls” are for cowards. Republicans minimizing disgruntled citizens at town halls run a risky political strategy. Just ask former President Obama and Democrats about their response to Obamacare protests in the summer of 2009. Democrats lost control of Congress the following year and President Obama, despite numerous accomplishments, was nonetheless stymied on much of his agenda for the remainder of his presidency. Neil Gorsuch will serve on the Supreme Court and Merrick Garland will not. Elections always have consequences.

Democrats can learn valuable lessons from the Tea Party protests and regain control of Congress next year. Republicans always overplay their hand. The early protests we are witnessing are good signs. As former House Speaker Tip O’Neal used to say, “All politics is local.”

Republicans who are avoiding constituents should listen to Gabby Giffords and “have some courage.” They should also heed the calls of protesters and do their job.

Cooper is president of Cooper Strategic Affairs, Inc.