In fiery town hall meetings this year, Republican members of Congress have faced constituents angry over plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
The GOP members of Washington’s delegation are feeling the heat, too.
Last month, Rep. Jaime Hererra Beutler, R-Camas, was pushed on health care at a Vancouver town hall where people interrupted and shouted over the congresswoman at times, the Columbian reported.
Faced with the expectation of similar boisterous crowds at in-person town halls, Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, is opting for a Facebook Live event with the television station KSTC 9 on Thursday instead of holding an in-person town hall.
“Over the years, town halls have disintegrated into shouting matches with no productive results and in some cases put attendees and staff at risk,” Reichert said in a written statement, adding that he has been arranging meetings with groups with opposing views and will schedule telephone town halls. “I encourage anyone who would like to meet with me or my staff to contact my office anytime.”
Democrats know Republicans’ pain.
Back in 2009 and 2010, it was the Democrats battling rowdy town halls as they tried to figure out how to write the very same health care law the GOP now wants to undo.
Tea party members and other opponents of Democratic health care reform often flooded those meetings. Congressional Democrats don’t have the fondest memories of their encounters.
“Having been through it, it can be very unpleasant,” said former Rep. Norm Dicks, a Belfair Democrat who represented the state’s 6th Congressional District. “But this is the way our country operates.”
Dicks was originally hesitant in 2009 to hold traditional town halls, concerned they wouldn’t be useful. He booked other public events such as Rotary Club meetings, a decision met with cries that he was ducking constituents.
Once he relented, Dicks said it felt like organized campaigns were using the town halls “as a way to attack” him. It was a shock to someone who had been in office for more than 30 years.
“I had been the representative for many years and had done a lot for these communities,” Dicks said. “I was not used to being pummeled.”
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, held town halls in that time period too, including one in 2009 that drew roughly 2,500 people to Lakewood.
At the event, people booed — and cheered — for the idea of a public health care option (which never made it into the final legislation). Some voiced concerns health care reform would raise government spending.
“I don’t mind people yelling at me at all,” Smith said of his 2009 town halls. “Some people got very passionate and very strong, but I let them say their piece.”
Smith said if he went through it, Republicans should too. He urged GOP members of the delegation to schedule the meetings, “particularly because Republicans seem so divided on exactly what to do with health care.”
Congressional Republicans have not reached consensus on how they want to repeal and replace Obamacare. Gov. Jay Inslee’s office says 750,000 Washingtonians now have coverage as a result of Obamacare. The law’s Medicaid expansion alone has provided coverage to 600,000 residents.
Smith has scheduled five in-person town halls for the rest of this year; the first will be March 4 in southeast Seattle. He says his town halls are usually tame affairs, given his Democrat-leaning district.
But as Democrats found in 2009, a safe district doesn’t always mean a polite reception.
Supporters of the ACA, also known as Obamacare, protested at Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ Spokane office last week and demanded she hold an in-person town hall meeting. Anti-Donald Trump groups and constituents of Reichert and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, have been calling on them to hold town halls, too.
Elsewhere, the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA is running ads designed to promote attendance at GOP town halls.
In Washington state, rallies at GOP members’ offices are planned this week, said Collin Jergens, communications director for the liberal advocacy group Fuse Washington.
Jergens said Reichert’s constituents “should be able to see him in person and have a back-and-forth conversation.”
“I don’t think a Facebook Live event allows everyone to engage,” he said.
A request for comment from Newhouse’s Washington, D.C., office was not returned. The Spokesman Review reported McMorris Rodgers typically holds town halls during the late-summer recess in Congress.
Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, is holding four in-person town halls over the next month. His first one is at Lincoln High School’s auditorium on Tuesday.
Kilmer said town halls are a priority for him, “even if that sometimes feels like you’re the piñata at the party.” He said he didn’t want to comment on what Republicans should do.
Dicks said despite the drubbing he took, he felt he made the right choice to hold town halls in 2009.
“People have a right to meet with their member and explain to them why they feel so strongly about it,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.