As Republican lawmakers across the country have faced raucous, chaotic town halls in recent days, a number have refused to have these events. Some cited safety as a reason, while others said they didn’t want their events “hijacked” by the confrontations seen elsewhere.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), in a statement released this week, blamed his decision not to hold these events in person on “the threat of violence at town hall meetings.” He also pointed to a specific violent event to bolster his case, invoking the 2011 shooting that severely injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and killed six others.
The former congresswoman responded Thursday, and she made clear that she does not agree with lawmakers shying away from meeting with members of the public.
“To the politicians who have abandoned their civic obligations, I say this: Have some courage,” Giffords said in a statement. “Face your constituents. Hold town halls.”
Giffords was shot in the head during a January 2011 meeting she was holding with constituents in Tucson. Remarkably, she survived the attack, which also wounded 12 others. The gunman pleaded guilty in 2012 and was given seven consecutive life sentences.
In her message Thursday, Giffords called town halls and other meetings with the public “a hallmark of my tenure in Congress,” adding that she felt “listening to my constituents was the most basic and core tenet of the job I was hired to do.”
Gohmert, in his statement two days earlier, was responding to a group that called on him to have a town hall. But the seven-term congressman said he would opt instead for telephone town halls rather than public meetings.
“Unfortunately, at this time there are groups from the more violent strains of the leftist ideology, some even being paid, who are preying on public town halls to wreak havoc and threaten public safety,” he said.
Though the National Republican Congressional Committee has warned of potential violence at town halls, the events this week have been peaceful, with the harshest treatment limited to heckling and boos, as The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel notes. (Weigel has separately written about how conservative media and the White House have painted the protesters as a paid, orchestrated group, which does not jibe with how the demonstrations are actually being organized.)
Gohmert went on to cite Giffords’s shooting and noted that during the 2011 rampage, the victims included a 9-year-old girl, a federal judge and a church volunteer who shielded his wife’s body with his own.
“Threats are nothing new to me and I have gotten my share as a felony judge,” he said. “However, the House Sergeant at Arms advised us after former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot at a public appearance, that civilian attendees at Congressional public events stand the most chance of being harmed or killed — just as happened there.”
Their campaign has brought them across the country, which Giffords also noted in her statement Thursday, stating that she held dozens of public events over the past year.
Giffords also pointed to another person who was injured during the 2011 shooting, saying that Rep. Ron Barber (D) — a former Giffords aide who was wounded and later succeeded her in office — held town halls while he was in Congress.
Gohmert, in his statement, says that “when the threat of violence at town hall meetings recedes, we can go back to having the civil town hall meetings I’ve had in the past.” He does not elaborate on when that might happen.