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At recess, House GOP plays hardball on town halls

- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 8, 2010

As members of Congress retreat from Washington this month to spend time in their home states, House Democrats and Republicans have traded barbs accusing each other of hiding from the public this summer.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) on Friday debuted a page on its website listing dozens of House Democrats it says haven't scheduled town-hall meetings for the six-week recess.

Democrats have fired back, calling the list a lie while accusing Republicans of producing a red herring to mask an empty legislative agenda.

"There's more truth in the pages of the National Enquirer than on this bogus website," said Doug Thornell, a spokesman for Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). "I'm surprised Republicans didn't claim Democrats are sending unicorns to death panels."

Town-hall meetings, where lawmakers fulfilled a time-honored and once typically mundane duty during summer visits home, have become popular venues for frustrated voters to vent their anger at Washington. Democrats particularly faced vocal crowds last summer at such gatherings, some of which degenerated into tussles involving pushing and shoving.

So Republicans say Democrats are dealing with potentially uncomfortable public appearances by simply refusing to meet with voters face to face.

The NRCC Web site as of Sunday listed 69 House Democrats who it says haven't scheduled town-hall meetings, while only six have.

"As Nancy Pelosi's Democrat puppets refuse to face the American people this August, it has become even more apparent that no amount of spin or political attacks will save the Democrat majority from being held accountable for their unpopular agenda on Election Day," said Ken Spain, a spokesman with the NRCC, the fundraising arm of House Republicans.

But the DCCC, the NRCC's Democratic counterpart, says several of its members left off the list have scheduled one or more town-hall meetings. With the summer break only a week old, they say, many lawmakers are in the process of scheduling their public appearances.

Democrats say they have held thousands of public meetings throughout the country since the 111th Congress commenced more than 18 months ago. They also accused the minority party of hypocrisy, saying many Republicans have yet to announce their own public appearance schedules.

"The real question is where are these Republican candidates? Why are they hiding from voters?" DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer said. "Each and every one of these hypocrites should show some courage and tell the public why they want to return to George W. Bush's failed agenda."

The NRCC says its town-hall list focuses only on Democrats in competitive races in the November elections. Including Democrats in liberal districts who are facing no significant re-election challengers, the group says, would be unfair because they face little fear of a voter backlash at public gatherings.

"The site accurately shows that the vast majority of Democrats facing competitive races in November have thus far been unwilling to face voters this August," NRCC spokesman Paul Lindsay said.

Mr. Lindsay also questioned whether the Democratic town-hall meetings the DCCC says were left off the NRCC list were announced in advance. The Republican group said it compiled its Democratic town-hall list from public notices, newspaper announcements and other sources.

The NRCC website doesn't include a list of House Republican town-hall meetings. Mr. Lindsay referred questions on the matter to the House Republican Conference. A spokeswoman with the conference said Friday that its members had scheduled almost 400 public appearances in their districts before Congress returns to Washington in September. Because the list wasn't finalized, she said, the group wasn't ready to make it public.

Exactly how many of the House's 255 Democratic members are vulnerable depends upon who is doing the analysis. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report lists 66 Democrats and seven of the chamber's 178 Republicans as vulnerable.

The Real Clear Politics website, in its forecast of the November House elections, shows Democrats holding a razor-thin 202-to-201 margin in seats, with 32 races still considered up for grabs.

c Joseph Weber contributed to this report.

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