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GOP Town Halls: Reps Forced To Screen Questions, Duck Out Of Meetings In Secret

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ALLENWEST

WASHINGTON -- The wave of town hall protests targeting House Republicans, and aided by labor and progressive groups, is forcing lawmakers to put restrictions on the forum’s traditionally open structure.

On Tuesday night, Rep. Allen West’s office (R-Fl.) reportedly screened questioners during his town hall event by requiring individuals to fill out index cards which were then vetted by his staff. This was, the Boward County Sun Sentinel noted, different from “his usual practice at previous town hall meetings, where West took questions from people who lined up at microphones.”

Separately, House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), who has chosen to publicly broadcast his town hall locations rather than avoid the protests, was forced to leave Tuesday night’s forum in a different car and from a different exit out of security concerns. The Wisconsin Republican told a local reporter that the decision to leave hastily was precautionary but not something that should be “blown out of proportion.”

Nevertheless, those groups and individuals trumpeting (and assisting) the town hall disruptions found in Tuesday's latest stories another favorable narrative.

"Is this the type of transparency Alan West promised when he ran for office?" emailed one labor source, whose members and retirees have been attending town halls.

The source, who pointed out the West news, declined to go on the record but didn’t shy away from touting the role played by his and other organizations in causing discomfort for West and others. The labor union, the source said, had been sending members to other West town halls (though not the one Tuesday night), “to ask pointed questions of their members where they stand on privatizing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security versus ending spending on tax cuts for the richest 2% of all Americans.”

UPDATE: Jonathan Blyth, West's Chief of Staff, emailed the Huffington Post on Wednesday morning to clarify some of the process issues from the townhall the night before. The questions, Blyth said, were not vetted by staffers but by a "third party," meaning that the congressman had no way of knowing what he was about to be asked.

"The two moderators who reviewed and picked the question were individuals who invited the Congressman to do the Town Hall at that location," said Blyth.

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