GOP faces hostile crowds at town halls on health care
AURORA, COLORADO | For someone who had just braved nearly two hours of booing, shouting and heckling from an audience of rowdy Obamacare fans, Rep. Mike Coffman was taking it rather well.
“I think it went pretty good,” the Republican told KOA-AM’s Steffan Tubbs after the packed Wednesday night town hall at the University of Colorado satellite campus here.
“The fact is that people are concerned about the changes over health care,” Mr. Coffman said. “They vented their anger, they were clearly unhappy with [President] Trump, but I think it was a very good exchange.”
Some Republicans have stopped holding public forums, opting instead to hold telephone town halls, after being blindsided earlier this year by angry crowds furious over the November election results. But others have embraced the chaos.
“It’s part of the job,” said Rep. Ted S. Yoho, Florida Republican and a town hall warrior who already has held four events over the congressional recess that began April 8. “Like Harry Truman said, ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.’”
Take Rep. Tom McClintock, California Republican, who has apparently never met a town hall he didn’t like. The staunch conservative has earned bragging rights this year for holding multiple public events, including a forum in February that grew so raucous that he had to be escorted out by police.
There’s a method to his madness. Those videos posted online showing him standing alone as he defends his positions against unruly crowds may energize the left, but to the other viewers, Mr. McClintock isn’t the one who looks like the radical extremist.
“It has been very nasty. What we’re seeing is the radical left on full display, the appalling lack of civility, the intolerance for any dissenting viewpoints and the abject double standard,” Mr. McClintock told Fox News after a contentious April 8 town hall in Loomis.
“But this doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” he said. “I think the broader community is watching this and forming an opinion on it.”
At least one of those behind the resistance says he’s onto Mr. McClintock’s strategy. Paul Smith, founder of the local Indivisible chapter, blasted the congressman for attending town halls and saying “provocative things that will enrage constituents,” then having the clips shown on conservative media outlets.
“I hate to break it to you, but it’s not going to work,” said Mr. Smith in a Wednesday open letter, insisting that, “This is a mainstream uprising.”
Rep. Doug Lamborn, Colorado Republican, drew taunts at a Wednesday town hall from an overflow crowd, including activists with Colorado Action Now, but the jeering didn’t stop him from appearing at two more public events on Thursday.
“My view has always been that good policy is good politics,” Mr. Lamborn told Fox21. “If you do the job you were elected to do, if you carry out the promises that you promise to keep, then you can let the chips fall where they will.”
At a Monday event in Gainesville, Mr. Yoho was repeatedly interrupted and shouted down by a crowd he described as the most unruly in his tenure, which is saying something considering that a man was arrested outside his March 4 town hall for punching another man in the face.
Even so, Mr. Yoho was back on the front lines Tuesday at a town hall in Palatka.
“Since the election, we’ve had a whole different crowd,” said Mr. Yoho. “I ask people how many are here for their first town hall, and 80 [percent] to 90 percent raise their hands. And I say, that’s what I love about this election. You have so many people who are really engaged.”
Republicans are also better prepared for the mayhem than they were at the start of the year, implementing changes such as selecting speakers using raffle tickets, bringing in moderators to oversee the discussion, banning large signs and having attendees pre-register online.
Mr. Coffman arranged for an auditorium that seats 800 after he was blindsided in January by hundreds trying to cram into a library venue unequipped to handle the crowd. He was later criticized for leaving at the end of the meeting through a backdoor.
This time Mr. Coffman took questions for nearly two hours, an hour longer than scheduled, gamely fielding dozens of hostile queries from an unfriendly crowd that repeatedly booed his opposition to the Affordable Care Act.
Mr. Tubbs moderated the Coffman town hall, while Mr. Yoho invited his 2014 Democratic opponent, Marihelen Wheeler, to serve as moderator and read questions from the audience at his March 4 event.
Protesters have also adjusted their tactics. With the large-sign ban now common, attendees at the Coffman event passed out preprinted cards with thumbs-up and thumbs-down graphics.
“The fact is that people are concerned about the changes over health care,” said Rep. Mike Coffman of a rather heated town hall meeting.