Republican legislators have found themselves facing increasingly heated town halls following Donald Trump's election victory. Many, in fact, have opted to forego them altogether, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said he doesn't hold town halls anymore because he doesn't want "a screaming fest, a shouting fest" — in other words, angry protestors.
“Aside from the obvious security concerns, what we have found is there are people who are trying to come in from out of the district to disrupt town hall meetings and not have a civil discussion, so what I have been doing is looking for new and creative ways to interact with my constituents in a civil way,” he told reporters at a press conference in Madison, Wisconsin, on Friday.
He continued, "I don’t want to have a situation where we just have a screaming fest, a shouting fest, where people are being bused in from out of the district to get on TV because they’re yelling at somebody. That does nobody any good. What I want to do is have a civil, good, quiet conversation with constituents."
Ryan went on to explain how he's been communicating with his constituents — telephone town halls and pre-arranged meetings during his office hours. These methods, he argued, prevent interruptions and allow for more productive conversation. Critics of Ryan's methods of communication suggest that the few events he's held this year, such as several "employee town halls," don't foster an environment in which the speaker is faced with challenging questions.
Brandon Weathersby, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, insists Ryan should make his town halls open to the public. "Ryan's only town hall this year was on CNN, prompting his hometown paper to urge him to do in-district town hall meetings," he told The Capital Times. "The bottom line is that the people of the First Congressional District want to speak with their Representative in person to learn why he supports kicking his own constituents off their health care insurance plans."
According to a late June report by Vox based on data collected by the Town Hall Project, only two Republican legislators have scheduled town halls for the month of July. In the Senate, 34 out of 52 Republican senators have held no town halls this year; a total of 158 GOP congress members have yet to hold town halls in 2017, a notable difference from the 35 Democrats in Congress who are in the same boat.
Grassroots activist groups such as Indivisible, one of the biggest groups leading the resistance movement against the Trump administration, see town halls as one of the most effective ways to influence lawmakers' decisions. With such events bring legislators face-to-face with their constituents, pressure and anger from their voters become more tangible. Activist groups also encourage recording town halls as a way to hold politicians accountable for their responses to questions.
Countless videos of heated town halls have gained considerable media attention and gone viral online, such as one Katie Needle's question asking Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price how defunding Planned Parenthood would "make any sense."
It's likely that both the anger they are likely to face and the possibility of widespread criticism is behind the GOP's resistance to holding town halls.
Ryan currently represents Wisconsin's first congressional district. The House Speaker will face a reelection in 2018.