In a contentious television interview only a few days ago, freshman Tea Party Rep. David Schweikert defended his decision to hold only a single town hall – or “listening session” – during Congress’ summer work period. Schweikert and his fellow members of Congress have come under considerable criticism for holding few constituent town halls. To be fair, Schweikert isn’t the only one falling short on the availability front. Members of both parties aren’t listening well, and neither of Arizona’s two other freshman members had open meetings with constituents this summer.
KPNX-Channel 12’s Brahm Resnik asked Schweikert about his decision to hold only one “listening session.” Here’s the relevant part of the interview:
RESNIK: So, as far as giving your constituents an open meeting where they just can talk to you directly in an unscheduled fashion – one meeting – after a very contentious session of congress, you’re saying that counts as openness?
There are a few things worth noting about Schweikert’s public availability. Resnik didn’t call him out on it, but Schweikert’s office scheduled the meeting at the last minute in Fountain Hills only after a group of local Democrats announced plans to hold a “People’s Town Hall” protest outside Schweikert’s office. Probably looking to avoid TV news cameras capture a protest about his lack of availability, Schweikert relented. His office had previously told others there would be no town halls over the summer work period.
The summer months are considered a work period for Congress, but Schweikert told Resnik that he’s so tired that he needs a “rest from this so-called time off.” Schweikert and his wife vacationed in Greece last month.
During his KPNX interview, Schweikert attempted to reassure viewers that he’s held true to his promise of openness, but in doing so, made several false statements:
- Schweikert said that he’s held “dozens” of town halls.
- Schweikert said he’s held a “town hall at the dog park.”
- Schweikert said, “If you add up the number of town halls we’ve done since the beginning of the year I think we’ve now done more than the previous incumbent did in four years.”
None of these statements are actually true. A simple search of Schweikert’s congressional Web site shows he hasn’t made himself available for even a dozen “listening sessions” – let alone the “dozens” he claims. Schweikert never held a “town hall at the dog park.” Although he did tell his Twitter followers that he would take his dog to a Fountain Hills dog park, it was never characterized as a “town hall” until Schweikert was forced to defend his lack of availability. (But we certainly have to give Schweikert credit for retroactive creativity.) And, during his four years in office, Schweikert’s predecessor certainly did hold “dozens” of Congress on Your Corner style meetings, which means the Tea Party freshman representative has many, many more to go before he surpasses that mark.