Lawmakers take to the tweets as recess heats up

Several House Republicans have used Twitter to promote their August activities, keeping a national audience informed of their once-obscure local recess events.

The hot-button issue of this year's recess has been healthcare town halls, with protesters expressing their disdain for the healthcare reform legislation at the meetings. Even though Democrats' town halls have been targeted for dissent, Republicans are seizing on the interest by touting their own meetings on Twitter to get their message out to a wider audience.

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“He wants to dispel myths and wants to get the truth out there about why the bill is bad and why it would hurt the country,” said Lauren Bean, communications director for Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas). Bean said Burgess has a mix of local and national Twitter followers.

Burgess, a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, tweeted a video on Monday of his town hall and an op-ed praising its civility.

House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) used Twitter to plug his Monday morning interview on WOWO radio in Fort Wayne, Ind., before and after the show.

“Wrapping up here at @WOWOFortWayne, been great. Thanks for your calls! Let's keep up the fight for freedom vs govt takeover of #healthcare,” he tweeted. “On my way to Bluffton for my third #healthcare town hall meeting with my constituents. All have been impassioned, but civil and respectful.”

Pence’s chief of staff, Bill Smith, said that the congressman’s recess tweeting is part of an effort to respond to high demand for local events, not an attempt to spur interest in them.

“We have received more phone calls asking, ‘Are you having town hall meetings? Where are they being held?’ We rarely have that happen,” Smith said.
 
House Republican tweets, however, have not completely dodged controversial issues.

Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) tweeted an article of a town hall during which he questioned President Barack Obama's citizenship and accused the White House of gathering an "enemies list."

Sullivan's tweet didn't mention that part, though: “Featured in today's Tulsa World: "Sullivan blasts Obama plans, says bipartisanship needed" We're fighting every step! http://bit.ly/8g4ti.”
 
Republican Study Committee chairman Tom Price (Ga.) and Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.) have also been very active in promoting their recess events and appearances.
 
Republicans are touting their opposition to healthcare reform at a time when the legislation faces tough questions from beyond town halls.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed that 52 percent of Americans believe Obama has mishandled the healthcare issue. Nearly 75 percent of respondents think that healthcare reform will add to the federal deficit and 57 percent want Congress to drop the bill if it “significantly” adds to the deficit.
 
“It’s obviously a problem for the people who are trying to push healthcare reform,” the assistant director of Quinnipiac's Polling Institute, Peter Brown, said in a release. “The White House and Democratic leadership are very concerned that the month of August not become the time when the plan died.”

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Despite the high frequency of Republican tweets, Bean denied that they were part of a coordinated effort. “It’s his own doing," she said of Burgess. “If anything he’s tweeting more because he’s doing more over the recess.”
 
But on a broader level, Republicans said they recognize the importance of social networking tools in politics. Smith said that “as conference chair, [Pence] has encouraged other members to use all types of new media.”
 
Although they have generated the bulk of recess tweets, Republicans aren't the only ones using Twitter to tout their activities over the break.
 
Centrist Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) has used her Twitter account to defend skeptical town hall audiences and express dismay that one of her events was canceled by a local school district:

“I disagree that the people showing concern over some healthcare proposals are "manufactured" Real folks, strong opinions,” she tweeted last week. “Very disappointed that U City school dist cancelled our event Tues. We will expand the time on afternoon event in effort to accomodate (sic) folks.”

Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) condemned the “political rhetoric” surrounding the healthcare debate.
 
The third-term Democrat linked a new White House website debunking healthcare “myths,” tweeting, “It’s time to tamp down the political rhetoric and take a look at the facts about health care reform. http://www.whitehouse.gov/realitycheck.”