House Speaker Paul Ryan announced on Friday that he will stop holding public town halls. Of course he has a reason – it just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Just listen:
Supposedly, he’s concerned about “people who are trying to come in from out of the district to disrupt town hall meetings and not have a civil discussion.” If that were really the concern, there are many established ways to limit attendance. For example, have people request invitations, and only mail them to addresses within the district. Or have people show ID at the door. It’s not as if this is the first time that a prominent politician has needed to limit attendance.
More likely, Ryan is seeking to continue to avoid the large crowds of people unhappy about Congress’s efforts to repeal Obamacare. Recent polling shows that 60% of Wisconsinites want to keep or improve Obamacare, with only 34% wanting to repeal or replace it. That suggests that there are many people living inside Ryan’s district who are upset with him. So, he is coming up with creative ways to avoid them while pretending to engage with his constituents.
For example, on Thursday, Ryan met with 25 employees at a manufacturing company. Presumably, the owner was a Ryan supporter, so all the employees felt pressured to please their boss by seeming enthusiastic. Even in that highly controlled context, Ryan was too scared to have an actual dialog with the people. Instead, he made them submit questions in advance so a company official could pick out softballs. One question asked whether Ryan would rather see “an October regular season Packers game or a Brewers World Series game?” I’m sure that pressing hypothetical was on everybody’s mind.
In any case, Ryan’s admission that he wouldn’t hold town halls is just an acknowledgment of what he was already doing. He hasn’t held a town hall all year. His constituents became so frustrated in late February that 300 of them organized their own town hall – with an empty chair as a stand-in for Ryan. And for now, that’s as close to an open discussion as any of them are likely to get.