UPDATE — 2/14, 10:55 a.m. EST: Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) announced Saturday that will no longer host town hall-style meetings with constituents in light of recent events with colleagues around the country that have turned into “useless” shouting matches.
“What you get are demonstrators who come and shout you down and heckle you,” Collins told WGRZ 2 On Your Side, an NBC affiliate in Buffalo. “They are not what you hope they would be, which is a give and take from people actually interested in getting some facts.”
Following a contentious town hall meeting with apparent constituents on Thursday evening, Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz explained that the protests were mainly an organized effort to intimidate and “just cause chaos.”
According to reports, approximately 1,000 people were in attendance at a high school auditorium in Cottonwood Heights, Utah, where Rep. Chaffetz was booed and shouted at mainly for his refusal to investigate Donald Trump over supposed conflict-of-interest violations. Other protesters, who weren’t allowed inside due to the building’s occupancy limits, stood outside and chanted “Chafftez is a coward!”
Specifically, Mr. Chaffetz, who as chairman of the House Oversight Committee is charged with investigating potential ethics violations within the executive branch, cited federal law in justifying his position and said he would not pursue the issue “until there’s evidence he’s somehow used that to ingratiate his family.”
“You’re not going to like this part,” Chaffetz announced to the crowd. “The president, under the law, is exempt from conflict of interest laws.”
On Friday, the congressman contended that many in the crowd were out-of-state activists, a claim disputed by state Rep. Marie Paulson (D-Cottonwood Heights), who had scheduled a town hall gathering of her own on the same date. Ms. Paulson said many constituents told her they would be attending Chaffetz’s event instead.
“I had so many get back to me and say, ‘We’ve been so upset by what Rep. Chaffetz is doing. We want him to investigate equally, with as much zeal as he did in the past, with this current administration,” Paulson said.
Chaffetz had previously led the effort on Capitol Hill to investigate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as America’s top diplomat, along with other partisan inquiries, including the investigation of Planned Parenthood.
However, Mr. Chaffetz did co-sign a letter addressed to the Office of Government Ethics earlier Thursday inquiring about possible disciplinary action for White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s comments encouraging the public to buy Ivanka Trump brand merchandise.
The incident in Utah is far from the only noteworthy town hall event to occur since the beginning of February. GOP lawmakers in California, Florida, Virginia, Michigan, Tennessee and Colorado have also reportedly heard from their constituents in a loud fashion, particularly regarding the appeal of Obamacare.
While some of the concern is real, two liberal activist groups — Organizing for Action and Indivisibles — have also organized protests at congressional town hall meetings in the month of February through online campaigns.
Watch a highlight video of Rep. Chaffetz’s Thursday town hall below.
[Deseret News Utah] [Politico] [The Hill] [Wall Street Journal] [Salt Lake Tribune/YouTube] [Photo courtesy Rick Bowmer/AP via NBC News]