Many Republican lawmakers are avoiding holding public events during this week’s recess because they don’t want to be yelled at by a room of angry constituents, and they really don’t want video of an encounter with one of their angry constituents to go viral.
GOP lawmakers have dismissed the surge in activism on the left, falsely claiming that the protesters are paid by George Soros or taking issue with the fact that people are organizing for political change. Many members of Congress argue there’s no point in engaging with a rowdy crowd, but a handful have offered a far more extreme excuse, claiming that town hall meetings are too dangerous.
This week, Texas Representative Louie Gohmert cited the 2011 shooting of former representative Gabby Giffords in a letter to constituents explaining why he refuses to hold an in-person town hall.
“Unfortunately, at this time there are groups from the more violent strains of the leftist ideology, some even being paid, who are preying on public town halls to wreak havoc and threaten public safety. Threats are nothing new to me and I have gotten my share as a felony judge,” Gohmert said.
“However, the House Sergeant at Arms advised us after former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot at a public appearance, that civilian attendees at congressional public events stand the most chance of being harmed or killed — just as happened there,” he added.
Giffords responded on Thursday, saying her shooting by Jared Lee Loughner, who was mentally ill, is no reason to avoid the raucous but nonviolent town halls happening across the country. “To the politicians who have abandoned their civic obligations, I say this: Have some courage,” Giffords said in a statement. “Face your constituents. Hold town halls.”
Giffords said she viewed meeting constituents as the “most basic and core tenant of the job” when she was in Congress, and her successor, Ron Barber, who was shot several times in the same shooting, held town halls as well. She noted that as a gun-control activist she’s held more than 50 public events in the past year.
“Many of the members of Congress who are refusing to hold town halls and listen to their constituents’ concerns are the very same politicians that have opposed common-sense gun violence prevention policies and have allowed the Washington gun lobby to threaten the safety of law enforcement and everyday citizens in our schools, businesses, places of worship, airports, and movie theaters,” she said.
Giffords did not mention Gohmert by name, but she may be referring to his unsuccessful effort to allow members of Congress to carry guns on the floor of the House of Representatives in the wake of her shooting.
Gohmert has yet to respond to Giffords. His letter said he’ll hold a public forum “when the threat of violence at town hall meetings recedes.” That threat is essentially made-up, so it’s unclear when that will be.