Activism

Democrats Shame Republicans With 'Adopt a District' Plan to Hold Town Halls for Missing GOP Representatives

Republicans are running scared following their Trumpcare vote—and Democrats are poised to swoop in.

Cypriot college students shout slogans during a protest in Nicosia against a bailout for the financially crippled island on March 26, 2013.

Only 1 in 5 Republicans in Congress held a town hall in the month of April, which included a two-week Easter recess. Of the 23 Republicans who represent House districts that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won, only six bothered to hold town halls in April. And although 217 House Republicans voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act promptly upon returning to Capitol Hill from their Easter break, only 17 are scheduled to hold public town halls during their early May break from session.

So in an effort to pressure the apparently cowering Republicans who voted for the American Health Care Act, otherwise known as Trumpcare, Democrats in Congress have scheduled their own events in competitive districts.

“Every Republican who voted for this thing ought to have to stand in front of their voters and explain it,” New York Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney recently told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. “And if it takes a Democrat to go in and do it for them for a while, I’ll explain what’s in this bill, and if he doesn’t like it, he should stand up and explain it himself.” Maloney, who was first elected to the House in 2012, is one of 12 Democrats who represents a district won by Donald Trump.

On Monday, Maloney traveled north to attend a town hall in a neighboring district represented by Republican Rep. John Faso, R-N.Y. Maloney suggested that other Democrats take up his “adopt a district” tactic with other evasive GOP colleagues.

“Maybe a Democrat ought to go into every district where a Republican who supported Trumpcare won’t hold a town hall meeting and do it for them,” he said. “Sit in that chair and say I’ll stand here and answer your questions until your own congressman starts doing his job,” he said on MSNBC on Friday.

“I’m not doing you a favor by answering your questions if I represent you. It’s my job,” Maloney told Faso’s constituents at Monday’s “Save our Healthcare Town Hall.” According to a report from Columbia-Greene Media, constituents in the red district broke out into chants of “Thank you, thank you,” when the Democratic congressman entered the room.

The forum, organized by the Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation and the citizen activist group Indivisible, was intended to get answers from Faso about his vote to repeal Obamacare and “take away health care from 65,000 constituents [and] put 290,000 constituents with pre-existing conditions at risk of losing coverage,” according to Indivisible’s description of the event on Facebook.

Maloney said he came up with the idea to “adopt a district” when Faso’s constituents, apparently unable to reach their representative, called his office on the day of the House vote on Trumpcare. Faso held a “tele-town hall” in March, before last week’s vote to repeal and replace Obamacare but cited a scheduling conflict to explain why he skipped Monday’s town hall.

“If at any time the current congressman wants to come here and do his job, well, I will pack up and I will leave,” Maloney said to Faso’s constituents Monday night. “If he walks in right now, I will hand him this microphone and I will go home. That’s how it should be. But until he is here to answer these questions, I am going to be here answering these questions. Let him stand on his own two feet and explain this vote to you.”

He pledged to the constituents of the Republican district: “As long as [Faso] keeps dodging town hall meetings, I will keep coming back.”

According to Columbia-Greene Media, the hashtag #AdoptADistrict was trending on Twitter during Maloney’s public relations coup in upstate New York and the hashtag #NoShowFaso had received more than 1,100 tweets. And Maloney is not the only Democrat to pick up on this brilliant bit of political trolling. 

Arizona Democrat Ruben Gallego announced that he will attend Tuesday’s “rally to stop Trumpcare in Martha McSally’s district.” Gallego, a progressive who represents parts of Phoenix, will travel 2 miles south to Tucson to pressure the Republican who represents a district won by Clinton last fall.

Gallego described the “adopt a district” strategy as an opportunity for Democrats of all stripes to “galvanize, organize, and stiffen the spine of the resistance,” in an interview with The New Republic.

In turn, look for the “adopt a district” strategy to grow.

House Minority Leader Nancy “Pelosi supports these efforts and has long encouraged members to do events in neighboring Republican districts on health care,” a spokesman for Pelosi recently told The New Republic. And Wisconsin Democrat Mark Pocan, vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told the New Republic that about 20 members of his group are considering hosting their own “adopt a district” events.

“If you had 20 people doing it in 20 districts across the country, that would be national news,” Pocan said. 

Citizens have also taken to holding their own mock town halls for missing Republican representatives in their districts. On Sunday 200 residents of Republican Rep. Peter King’s New York district held their own meeting on the Republicans’ vote to repeal Obamacare. King voted for Trumpcare last week. But King said he wants an increase in reimbursement to his state for Medicaid expansion in the Senate version or else he may not vote for final approval of the bill.

King explained his reason for missing out on a visit with constituents to discuss such an important matter to Newsday: “To me it would just be enabling aberrant behavior.”

When elected officials are describing their constituents’ calls for increased communication as “aberrant behavior,” you know they are feeling the heat. Democrats would be wise to keep up the pressure.

Sophia Tesfaye is the Deputy Politics Editor at Salon.

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