Complaint Calls, Emails Flood Congressional Offices
The fast-paced start of the Trump administration has led to a massive flood of calls, emails and even faxes to members of Congress as Republicans adjust to the new attention and opposition that comes with a GOP administration and Democrats respond to the anger of their liberal base.
In the Senate, the increase in calls has come mainly in opposition to President Trump’s Cabinet picks, and peaked this week as senators considered the nomination of Betsy DeVos as education secretary. The pressure has been applied to both Republicans and Democrats alike. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, one of two Republicans who will oppose DeVos, cited the “thousands, truly thousands” of calls she received opposing the nomination when she announced her position on the Senate floor.
Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania even received thousands of faxes as his office was deluged by frustrated citizens, according to Philadelphia magazine.
“This is more intense than ever before, I think,” said Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who said his office has received a “huge number” of calls in recent weeks, mostly related to nominations.
Senators have tried to reassure their voters that they are not ducking their constituents. Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska tweeted Tuesday that it was “all hands on deck” answering phone calls in her office. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado tweeted a photo of himself on the phone, and said there has been a “large volume of calls” that his staff was “working overtime” to answer.
And Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, who is one of the few Republicans considered vulnerable for re-election in 2018, tweeted that his staff was “experiencing heavy call volumes in all our offices. Staff is answering as many as possible. Please continue calling to get through.”
While the vast majority of the contacts have been directed to the Senate, where Trump’s Cabinet and Supreme Court nominations are being considered, the House is feeling the energy from citizens as well. One aide to a GOP member, who requested anonymity to convey private office numbers, said phone calls and emails were coming in at three times the normal level.
Many Republicans say the calls can be divided into two distinct groups – those who are being organized by Democratic groups to petition Republicans, and constituents who are generally concerned about the first few weeks of the Trump administration. Some members are expressing concern over the heavy volume of feedback – the issue was raised by several members in House Republicans’ weekly conference meeting on Tuesday, according to two sources in the room.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy spoke to some of the concerns, telling members that it was bound to happen as power switched hands, but not to let it be a distraction and to be prepared to answer questions about their agenda, according to an aide.
Rep. John Shimkus told fellow lawmakers he’d never held a town-hall meeting during his two decades in Congress, and offered advice on how to handle constituent relations, according to two sources in the room. A Shimkus spokesperson wouldn’t comment on the private conference, but did confirm that Shimkus has never held an in-person town hall, saying he prefers telephone town halls and one-on-one constituent meetings. The spokesperson added that Trump won the Illinois district with 70 percent of the vote, and his constituents were “pleased the president is delivering on his promises.”
Rep. Steve Stivers, the chairman for House Republicans’ campaign committee, said he viewed most of the traffic as an organized effort from Democratic opposition, but that he’d had a number of members speak to him about dealing with frustrated voters.
“We’re trying to figure out how to make sure that our members are very responsive to their constituents,” Stivers said, “but also how our members understand and utilize the tools at their advantage to differentiate between a mob that wants to come, intentionally organized by one political party, versus real organic constituents that have concerns.”
Rep. Tom Cole, an eight-term representative and former campaign committee chairman, said it was mostly members in swing districts facing increased negative attention. In districts like his – Oklahoma’s 4th, which Trump won with 65 percent of the vote and Cole won with 70 percent – he said the majority of calls during the Obama administration were angrier than those received so far this year.
Several aides said privately that most members weren’t overly concerned about the volume, particularly given the fast and contentious first two weeks under Trump. But if the volume continued into the spring and summer months, they said, the trend would be a more troubling. For those members who represent swing districts – or especially those from districts that voted for Hillary Clinton – the influx of responses has required an adjustment period.
“Three-quarters of these members roughly have never worked with a Republican president at all,” Cole said. “Most of them define themselves as anti-Obama figures. That’s not a very appropriate identity for a new era, so there’s a lot of readjustment going on. This is a new world.”
Rep. Mark Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina who’s served in Congress since 2013, said his office has had high volume of calls and protests, which largely focused on the Affordable Care Act at first, then mostly dealt with Trump’s refugee and immigration executive order. He described the tone as “strident” and “visceral.”
“People are pretty amped up right now,” Sanford said.