After asking Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) for weeks to hold a town hall to discuss the Trump administration, a group of her constituents have declared they will hold a Comstock town hall — with or without her.
The push is part of a national wave of protests around the country aimed at President Trump’s policies — including his executive order to temporarily bar refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States — and Republican plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
In nearly every Virginia congressional district, Facebook groups have sprouted up for activists, many of them new to politics, to discuss strategy for flooding the offices and social-media accounts of elected officials.
Like tea party protesters following the passage of the health-care law in 2009, liberal activists say they want to question members of Congress face to face about their positions and their votes on Trump’s Cabinet nominees. Some have organized local groups under the moniker “Indivisible,” a name taken from a guide prepared by former Hill staffers that offers tips about how to organize against Trump.
Comstock, the only Republican representing Northern Virginia in Congress and a possible candidate for Senate next year, has preferred to keep the activists at arm’s length.
She held a “telephone town hall” Wednesday night that lasted about an hour and 15 minutes. Although she said during the call that more than 6,000 constituents were listening in, only about a dozen were able to speak to the congresswoman.
After the call, some participants expressed frustration about the inability of callers to follow up on what they considered vague and repetitive answers.
“People are furious,” said Kristen Swanson, an artist and teacher from Loudoun County and one of the organizers behind the effort to have Comstock appear in person at a town hall. “We’re not trying to ambush her; we just want to talk to her.”
Initially, Swanson said, Comstock’s office did not respond to her calls and emails inviting her to a town hall next week.
After The Washington Post inquired about it Friday, Comstock’s office told Swanson the congresswoman could not attend due to a scheduling conflict.
Through a spokesman, Comstock said she and her staff prefer to meet with small groups of constituents.
“We have found that this personal setting has been conducive to civil and respectful discussions,” spokesman Jeff Marschner said in a statement.
Wednesday’s telephone town hall was open to constituents who registered in advance during a 20-hour window.
“We talk to people every week,” Comstock said during the call. “We’re out in there in the community talking to people in their businesses, in their schools, in their rotary clubs and chambers and everywhere else. I know when I go to church, we hear from people.”
Most callers asked about her party’s plan to replace the Affordable Care Act and about Trump’s ban on refugees, which has been stayed by the courts. Comstock told callers that the ban was unconstitutional and bad policy.
“One of these things we need to really strive in these challenging times, and I know it’s not often what you see on TV, but we need to have this kind of civilized discourse, and I appreciate the passion that everyone brings to these issues,” she said by telephone.
Members of the “Indivisible” group from Comstock’s district said they want to avoid the kind of angry confrontations that played out a few days ago at town halls hosted by Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Diane Black (R-Tenn.).
“We would like very much for a meeting to happen and for the congresswoman to be there,” said Jan Hyland of Loudoun County. “We want to make it as easy as possible for her to attend.”
After the election, Swanson downloaded the 26-page “Indivisible” guide and started a Facebook group that ballooned to more than 1,300 members and spurred various splinter groups.
“We truly, truly believe that we deserve a face-to-face conversation,” Swanson said. “We deserve to ask questions to our representative and have her answer them in person. It’s just very basic. That’s her job, and our country is in crisis.”
Similar groups in the suburban Richmond district represented by Rep. Dave Brat (R) are pressing him to hold an in-person town hall after he was captured on video complaining about the onslaught of requests he’s gotten from constituents.
Following publicity about his comments, he answered questions remotely through a “Facebook town hall” and committed to hold an in-person event in his district next week. Brat said he was amazed at the hubbub because he considers himself one of most accessible members of Congress.
“I explain every vote on Facebook,” he said in an interview. “I went to seminary, would never hurt a fly. Never said a negative word about anybody, never a negative ad.”
During his first term, Brat said, he visited all 10 counties in his district every month. Asked to provide documentation of the meetings, his office declined, saying many events were chronicled in news stories and on social media.
Rep. Scott W. Taylor (R), who was elected in November, has scheduled three in-person town halls in his Virginia Beach district later this month.
“It’s important for me to stay connected to my constituents and hear their opinions and answer their questions,” Taylor said in an interview. “I know [other lawmakers] have had some [security] problems. I don’t care. I’m looking forward to it and to hearing their concerns.”
In addition to Brat and Taylor, Virginia Democratic Reps. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, A. Donald McEachin, Don Beyer and Gerald E. Connolly are planning in-person town halls.
Republican Reps. Rob Wittman and Thomas Garrett said they will hold telephone or online forums. Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R) and H. Morgan Griffith (R) did not return messages seeking comment on their plans.