Constituents Use 'Search Parties,' Cardboard Cutouts To Protest GOP Lawmakers Avoiding Town Halls

Angry constituents have held creative protests to draw attention to absent lawmakers.

WASHINGTON ― As many GOP lawmakers avoid facing questions at public town halls during this week’s congressional recess, their constituents are once again resorting to creative tactics to protest their absence.

In California, constituents on Wednesday ridiculed Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) by holding a town hall featuring a cardboard cutout of Nunes, dubbed “flat Devin,” according to the Fresno Bee.

Earlier this year, Nunes was forced to step aside from leading the House intelligence committee’s investigation into ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian officials. Nunes, who served on Trump’s transition team, drew ethical questions in his handling of classified information, and his poor management of the investigation created the appearance that he had coordinated with the Trump administration.

“He unfortunately had to recuse himself from attending this event because he’s too busy not investigating the Kremlin,” the event’s moderator Mallory Kremer joked. 

Organizers said that Nunes turned down several invitations to attend the town hall in Fresno, parts of which lie in his central California district. They plan to send him video of the event.

While Nunes has not held public town halls and has kept a relatively low profile since his questionable handling of the investigation, the Los Angeles Times earlier this week obtained video of the congressman lashing out against Democrats while addressing a private GOP fundraiser in April.

Nunes is one of a number of GOP lawmakers avoiding in-person town halls with constituents during the congressional recess. In recent months, officials who have held town halls have faced raucous crowds and protesters demanding answers on the GOP’s bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, as well as myriad issues pertaining to the Trump administration and whether the lawmakers will hold Trump accountable.

Angry constituents have held their own events to draw attention to absent lawmakers, from talking to cardboard cutouts and empty chairs, to taking out ads reporting lawmakers as “missing,” to organizing “adopt-a-district” town halls, in which neighboring Democratic representatives take the place of their absent GOP counterparts. Similar protests are set to occur this week, according to the Town Hall Project, a crowdsourced site that tracks congressional town halls.

Organizers invited Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to a town hall Thursday night in Philadelphia that he said he’d be unable to attend. But he did attend a private lunch there earlier in the day that was met with protests.

Toomey repeatedly avoided town halls earlier this year, so constituents held an event in which they spoke to a literal empty suit

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who has also eschewed in-person appearances in favor of telephone town halls to avoid protesters, is not holding a town hall this week, so Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) is attending one in his place.

Some Democrats and advocacy groups have specifically gone after lawmakers who refuse to answer questions about the GOP’s haphazard bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Andy Slavitt, who oversaw the implementation of Obamacare as the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is holding town halls in the districts of vulnerable GOP representatives who have avoided constituent events.

The political arm of Planned Parenthood, which would be defunded under the GOP bill, has also mounted its own events. On Friday, the organization’s Virginia chapter is holding “a search party” for Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), who has not held public town halls, calling on constituents to “embark on a valiant quest to find Ms. Comstock.”

“Persistent volunteers will visit the representative’s Loudoun County office every 30 minutes, looking for clues from her staff on her whereabouts,” the invitation reads. “In addition to petitions from constituents asking for a town hall, volunteers will be equipped with any food and water the currently missing representative may require.”



2017 Scenes From Congress & Capitol Hill