Some vul­ner­a­ble Democrats avoid public fo­rums

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - STEVE PEO­PLES In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Erica Werner of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

NEW YORK — From Mon­tana to West Vir­ginia, the na­tion’s most vul­ner­a­ble Se­nate Democrats are avoid­ing public meet­ings as their Repub­li­can coun­ter­parts get pum­meled by an en­er­gized elec­torate frus­trated with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s early agenda.

Some Democrats pre­fer to con­nect with con­stituents over the tele­phone or us­ing so­cial me­dia. Oth­ers are meet­ing vot­ers in con­trolled en­vi­ron­ments with lim­ited op­por­tu­ni­ties to ask ques­tions. But few of the 10 Demo­cratic sen­a­tors fac­ing re-elec­tion next year in states car­ried by Trump have sched­uled in- per­son meet­ings dur­ing this week’s con­gres­sional re­cess.

Sen. Claire McCaskill of Mis­souri de­clined an in­vi­ta­tion to at­tend a meet­ing or­ga­nized by a group called Kansas City In­di­vis­i­ble this week­end, de­cid­ing to send a staff mem­ber in her place. The two-term se­na­tor, up for re-elec­tion next year in a state Trump won by nearly 19 per­cent­age points, is sched­uled to chat with vot­ers next week on Face­book Live.

“Seems to me that all these mem­bers of Congress are afraid to face their con­stituents,” said Hil­lary Shields, a vol­un­teer or­ga­nizer with the Kansas City group.

The cau­tious ap­proach comes as Se­nate Democrats work to limit risks ahead of the 2018 elec­tion sea­son. Af­ter claim­ing the Se­nate ma­jor­ity in 2014, Repub­li­cans could win a fil­i­buster-proof 60-vote Se­nate ma­jor­ity next year in an elec­tion in which Democrats are de­fend­ing 25 seats (23 held by Democrats, two by in­de­pen­dents), 10 of them in states car­ried by Trump.

The GOP has a 52-48 edge in the Se­nate.

Democrats like McCaskill are be­ing pushed to stand up to the Repub­li­can pres­i­dent by their lib­eral base and pulled to co­op­er­ate with the GOP by in­de­pen­dents and mod­er­ates.

McCaskill’s of­fice noted that she spent part of this week tour­ing the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der and planned to host meet­ings later in the year.

The po­lit­i­cal pres­sure is par­tic­u­larly in­tense for Sens. Joe Manchin of West Vir­ginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Democrats whose states backed Trump by an av­er­age of 39 per­cent­age points in Novem­ber.

Both have avoided for­mal public fo­rums this week, but Heitkamp’s of­fice said she par­tic­i­pated in a dis­cus­sion about flood is­sues with con­stituents in north­east­ern North Dakota and at­tended a sub­se­quent rib­bon-cut­ting on Thurs­day.

Manchin’s of­fice re­ported an equally busy sched­ule, but his con­stituents said he’s been hard to find this week. They sched­uled a protest out­side the Demo­cratic se­na­tor’s Charleston of­fice on Fri­day to de­mand more ac­cess, said Cathy Kunkel, an en­ergy con­sul­tant who helped plan the protest.

“Here we are, and we’d like a town hall meet­ing,” Kunkel said. “His con­stituents have a lot of ques­tions. This is the first re­cess of the new Congress in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

As Democrats dodge, many Repub­li­cans face an out­pour­ing of anger in public meet­ings across the na­tion from con­stituents fired up over Trump’s first steps as pres­i­dent. Repub­li­cans like Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell of Ken­tucky and Sen. Tom Cot­ton of Arkansas have been yelled at, heck­led and booed in re­cent days.

Some Repub­li­cans have avoided such con­fronta­tions. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas evoked the near-fa­tal shoot­ing of for­mer Rep. Gabrielle Gif­fords, D-Ariz., to ex­plain why he’s only hold­ing tele­phone fo­rums. Gif­fords on Thurs­day urged mem­bers of Congress to “have some courage” and face their con­stituents.

For now, pro­test­ers’ angst is largely fo­cused on Repub­li­cans. But only a few weeks ago, Democrats in­clud­ing Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles Schumer of New York and Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren of Mas­sachusetts faced a sharp re­buke for back­ing one of Trump’s Cab­i­net picks.

“Grass-roots Democrats won’t be shy about chal­leng­ing their own lead­ers if they sense a whiff of co­op­er­a­tion with the Trump agenda,” said Ben Wik­ler, Wash­ing­ton direc­tor for the lib­eral group MoveOn.org.

It’s un­clear whether they’ll get the chance with cer­tain Se­nate Democrats, how­ever.

Shields noted that McCaskill made time to visit the Mex­i­can bor­der: “We’d like to have her back in Mis­souri.”

AP/J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., speaks on Capi­tol Hill in Jan­uary. McCaskill is among Se­nate Democrats tak­ing a cau­tious ap­proach on town-hall-style meet­ings.

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