Taking the thrashing
Critics and targets deserve some credit
At least Sen. Tom Cotton and Rep. Steve Womack showed up.
There are 290 Republicans in Congress. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., scheduled 35 in-person town halls during the first two months of the new session. Only 53 such meetings were scheduled in January and February by all the other members of his party in Congress combined. That averages out to two town halls for every 11 non-Sensenbrenner GOP members of Congress. It is also barely more than one town hall per state outside Wisconsin.
Yet Northwest Arkansas had two town hall meetings this week. Cotton faced the music in Springdale and Womack in West Fork. They knew going in they would be the surrogate targets for President Donald Trump and his record-breaking unpopularity as a new president. That should be noted even though Cotton and Womack hold two of the safest GOP seats in the country.
Looking Kati McFarland of Springdale in the eye and saying that, no, he does not have a replacement health care plan worked out that would keep her alive and also get the needed votes from his hard-to-find peers is a harsh thing. We should grant that to Cotton. We should not forget, though, that the much harder thing is being in McFarland’s shoes.
With so many of their peers laying low, hiding from other McFarlands in other places, Womack and Cotton were among the few visible targets. I doubt national press would have paid either of the congressmen’s public appearances as much attention if more meetings like these were happening elsewhere.
Of course officeholders should face the music from the people they represent. So one could say Cotton and Womack just did their jobs. Yes, they did. If Congress as an institution proves anything, though, it’s this: Any member who shows up and does his job deserves some credit. This is a sad and sorry state of affairs, but it is the way things are.
Credit should also go to the folks who played that music. Some of them were organized by the anti-Trump group Indivisible, but many were not. And a few were brave enough to voice their support for the congressmen under fire and say, in effect, that elections have consequences.
“The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!” President Trump tweeted that out on Tuesday in a typically childish pout. My wife and I cannot have a family Thanksgiving dinner at home without planning. Having your act together is not cheating.
The big question now is whether the sound and fury that greeted these members of Congress signify anything. Stirring people up cannot even guarantee a win in a Democratic primary. Sen. Bernie Sanders proved that last year. Stirring is not what counts. What counts is finding something worthwhile for people to do once stirred.
And no, giving a couple of lawmakers bad days does not count as getting something done. For instance, getting pummeled in West Fork probably solved the closest thing Womack has to a re-election problem.
Womack has not had a Democratic opponent who made it all the way to the November ballot since 2010. He has always had more to fear from a possible primary challenge from his right. Those who attended public meetings of his for years know that, incredibly, there really are people to the right of Womack.
But after these two meetings, you can almost see the Republicans circling their wagons. Even a squabbling family or tribe unites itself against outsiders.
Notably, Cotton said during his forum that the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is seriously looking at the Trump administration’s relationship with Russia — ties so close that Trump’s first National Security Adviser had to resign over providing the Russian ambassador with information, then lying about it. Cotton is a member of that committee.
The audience was skeptical. They challenged the senator, pushing for open hearings. Cotton’s reply was revealing. He said the recent experience with the so-called Benghazi panel, which looked into the attack on a U.S. Embassy in Libya, helped convince him that such an open probe was not the best way to look into national security matters.
He is right, but newly rediscovering discretion only after a Republican president got elected is unfortunate timing. Even so, having a hawk like Cotton criticize what happened with a Republican-dominated House committee investigation is surprising.