early and often

Hundreds Confront Congressman Jason Chaffetz at Rowdy Utah Town Hall

Photo: Rick Bowmer/AP

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz has resisted calls to investigate President Trump, and this week he assured everyone that the president wouldn’t even let him discuss oversight during his visit to the Oval Office. On Thursday night, Utahns let Chaffetz know that they do not think continuing the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails and going after an ethics watchdog that criticized Trump is the best use of his time.

More than 1,000 people showed up to Chaffetz’s town hall in Cottonwood Heights, a Salt Lake City suburb, to question the congressman on his failure to investigate the president, his support for Trump’s controversial executive orders, and his efforts to repeal the Obama order establishing Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah.

Like those of many politicians, Chaffetz’s office has been swamped by calls in recent weeks, and several liberal groups, including Utah Indivisible and Our Utah, organized members to pack the town hall event. The Salt Lake County Republican Party urged “the REAL majority of Utah voters” to turn out in support of Chaffetz after the event had to be moved to a larger venue. Nevertheless, Chaffetz found himself being booed by a rowdy crowd that filled the 1,080-seat venue nearly to capacity, with many more protesting outside.

Chaffetz drew applause when he noted that earlier on Thursday, the House Oversight Committee called on the Office of Government Ethics to recommend disciplinary action against White House aide Kellyanne Conway for promoting Ivanka Trump products.

But the crowd was far less receptive when Chaffetz explained that President Trump isn’t required to release his tax returns, and said he wanted to get rid of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as well — by eliminating the entire department.

Chaffetz ended the town hall 40 minutes early, and refused to take questions from the press.

Outside, protesters promised Chaffetz he’d see them again.

Since Trump’s inauguration, Republicans across the country have seen large crowds of left-leaning constituents turn up to events in their districts. More than 600 people turned out for a town hall with Representative Justin Amash in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Thursday. The meeting was only scheduled to last an hour, but Amash stayed late to continue answering questions. The crowd’s reaction to Amash was mixed. He was applauded for saying he believes President Trump’s immigration order needs to be rewritten, but booed when he discussed repealing Obamacare.

Meanwhile in Tennessee, Representative Diane Black and other Republicans were met by a group of 75 to 100 protesters at an event held by the Middle Tennessee State University College Republicans. Many complained that they weren’t allowed in the room:

Inside, lawmakers mostly faced questions about the Affordable Care Act. “As a Christian, my whole philosophy in life is to pull up the unfortunate,” said one woman. “The individual mandate: that’s what it does.”

While some Republicans, like Amash, say they’re happy to see people getting more engaged, others are avoiding meetings with their constituents. Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama called off a town hall with a tea party group after Democrats tried to show up. Congressman Lee Zeldin, who represents Long Island, has already canceled a town hall event scheduled for April because liberal protesters were planning to show up. Constituents requesting a meeting with Representative Jimmy Duncan Jr. of Tennessee have received a form letter informing them that he has no intention of holding town hall meetings.

“I am not going to hold town hall meetings in this atmosphere, because they would very quickly turn into shouting opportunities for extremists, kooks and radicals,” the letter reads. “Also, I do not intend to give more publicity to those on the far left who have so much hatred, anger and frustration in them.”

Hundreds Confront Congressman Chaffetz at Rowdy Town Hall