Facing pressure from constituent groups who say he has been avoiding them, Rep. Dave Brat on Tuesday afternoon announced that he would hold a Facebook town hall that same evening.
The announcement came as Brat, R-Va., was criticized by residents in his district who say he has refused to hold an in-person town hall meeting to hear their concerns about President Donald Trump’s administration.
In a video taken Saturday at a meeting in the Richmond, Virginia, suburbs in his safely Republican district, Brat said, “Since Obamacare and these issues have come up, the women are in my grill no matter where I go.”
He added: “They come up – ‘When is your next town hall?’ And believe me, it’s not to give positive input.”
The comments, first reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, contrast starkly with Brat’s message of the 2014 campaign when he toppled then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R, on a promise to be responsive to constituents.
In the newspaper, Brat said he would hold a town hall sometime after Trump’s first 100 days in office. Yet he is planning to travel to Arizona later this month as the special guest of Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., at an event billed as a “town hall meeting.”
The confluence of events rankled Karen Peters, a Chesterfield resident who previously voted for Brat and is leading a group of about 50 residents who want to meet privately with him. “I know he’s a busy man, but if he can go to Arizona, he can meet with his constituents,” she said.
Members of her group began contacting Brat’s office after the November election over worries about Trump strategist Stephen Bannon. She said they’ve grown increasingly anxious about about Trump’s policies on health care, immigration and other issues.
“We have some hard questions we want to ask him, and we don’t understand why he wouldn’t want to sit down with his constituents when there’s this much concern,” she said.
Maureen Haines, 33, started the Facebook page agitating for a town hall out of frustration that Brat – who she voted for – seemed to be inaccessible. In 2015, she was surprised by an event where questions to Brat had to go through a staffer. In 2016, she couldn’t find any Brat events open to the general public.
“He called us paid activists – we’re taxpayers, for crying out loud!” said Haines. “When I saw that Arizona announcement this morning I was baffled. He was on television last night, saying he’s been busy, busy, busy with everything going on and couldn’t hold an event until after the first 100 days.”
Brat announced his Facebook town hall on social media Tuesday afternoon. His office did not respond to questions about why he decided to hold an online event.
“I am looking forward to hearing your questions and concerns and giving you a quick update on what is happening in Washington,” the online post says.
Quentin Kidd, a political scientist and pollster at Christopher Newport University, said the public may not be best served by the approach, but it’s smart politics.
Brat was elected to his first term in 2014, and Kidd said he and other tea party favorites are learning to avoid the mistakes of officials lambasted in sometimes contentious town halls after the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
“Brat is being very ,very smart if he’s thinking, ‘How do I keep myself out of trouble?’ ” he said.
The Washington Post’s David Weigel contributed to this report.