Updated on Feb. 21, 5:18 p.m. | Despite increased reports of liberal demonstrators disrupting Republican town halls, more lawmakers than usual are planning to meet with their constituents, including Republicans, according to CQ Roll Call data.
Democrats, especially, seem happier than usual to open themselves up this year.
There are 35 Democrats planning to hold town halls over this Presidents Day recess, which Roll Call counts as starting on the Saturday before the federal holiday and ending on the Thursday after. Knowlegis, an advocacy tool from CQ Roll Call that tracks town halls, shows only 17 or fewer Democrats did this each year since 2009. As of Tuesday morning, 32 Republicans have also scheduled town halls this Presidents Day week, up from an average of 21 since 2009.
Knowlegis records are not comprehensive — some lawmakers are prone to holding last-minute town halls, which Knowlegis typically doesn’t capture — but they lay out a picture of how lawmaker activities this Presidents Day week compare to those before.
The number of Republicans planning meetings this week is also higher than previous years, suggesting there may not be widespread fear among GOP lawmakers of facing their constituents during the recess.
Still, only one of the 10 vulnerable House members in the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Patriot Program is on the list. Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock, who angered constituents last month when she didn’t show up to two town halls in her northern Virginia district, had a telephone Q&A scheduled for Tuesday night.
While these tele-town halls allow members to reach constituents who can’t or won’t travel to attend an in-person meeting, they also allow lawmakers to avoid some the kinds of tense moments that come when they are confronted by constituents who disagree with them.
In contrast, five House Democrats in seats targeted by the NRCC are scheduled to hold town halls: Salud Carbajal of California, Derek Kilmer of Washington, Ron Kind of Wisconsin, Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Tim Walz of Minnesota.
The member with the most town halls scheduled for the recess is Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden with nine over six days.
Many lawmakers — nearly 200 since 2009 — have chosen to use this one-week recess to get face time with their constituents through town halls. The majority of members, however, don’t. For 2017, Knowlegis shows that only 67 of the total of 537 senators, House members and delegates plan to open themselves up for Q&As during the recess.
Town halls sometimes take place over the phone — and, recently, some members have used real-time streaming on Facebook Live.
Since 2009 — the last time there was a new president — more Republicans than Democrats have generally held town hall meetings during the Presidents Day recesses, by about a two-to-one margin.
For much of this time, there were more Republicans than Democrats in Congress (though not twice as many). Some of the differences could be explained by news events surrounding the annual recess. As momentum for the tea party surged in 2011, for example, far more Republicans than Democrats held town halls: 43 GOP members compared to just 9 Democratic lawmakers, according to the Knowlegis data.