State Watch

House, Senate leaders avoid holding town halls


House and Senate leaders from both parties over the last two years have generally avoided holding town halls.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) held 16 in-person town hall events in his Wisconsin district in 2015, according to data collected by the independent website Legistorm. But since becoming Speaker in October 2015, Legistorm has not recorded any Ryan town halls.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), too, has held few public meetings. McConnell took questions at an event in Louisville in February, but attendees were required to buy a ticket.

It’s the same story across the aisle.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the No. 3 Democrat in the upper chamber, have each held just one town hall meeting since the beginning of the 114th Congress, in January 2015, according to Legistorm.

{mosads}Lawmakers’ attendance at town halls has come under new scrutiny after Republicans in recent weeks faced angry demonstrations at in-person events over efforts to repeal ObamaCare.

Some Republicans rescheduled or canceled events leading to criticism from Democrats. But while its Republicans on the hot seat this year, in 2009 Democrats faced off with voters over their health reform plans.

Rank-and-flle members have faced tough decisions on whether to hold town halls, but Legistorm’s data shows that most of their leaders have managed to avoid holding the events.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the vice chairwoman of the Democratic conference, has not held a town hall since meeting constituents in Springfield, Mass. in February 2016.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the new deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has not held a formal town hall meeting since December.

“Despite running a national campaign the last 4 months, he has met with constituents every week in his district and D.C. office,” an Ellison spokesperson told The Hill. “And he frequently engages with them on social media.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the minority whip, last held a town hall in June 2015, Legistorm found.

“Senator Durbin holds public events just about every weekend he’s home, but in just the past two months, he’s held 4 open forums,” a Durbin aide told The Hill.

This year, some Republicans have embraced more controlled environments, like telephone town halls, to avoid embarrassing clashes with protesters that have gone viral on social media and been replayed on cable news.

A number of congressional leaders from both parties have also turned to social media or other ways to hold meetings in the last two years.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) last held town halls in 2015, with two of the three through Google Hangouts. A Baldwin aide said the senator regularly meets with constituents in both Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the assistant House Democratic leader, held virtual town halls through Twitter in 2015.

Similarly, Republican Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn’s last town hall was via Google Hangout in June 2015. 

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the Republican Conference Chairwoman, last held a telephone town hall in 2015. Her office did not respond for comment.

House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) held telephone town halls on Wednesday and last week, as well as several in 2016, his office told The Hill.

Tags Cathy McMorris Rodgers Chuck Schumer Dick Durbin Elizabeth Warren John Cornyn Mitch McConnell Patty Murray Paul Ryan Tammy Baldwin

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