Congressman Paul Mitchell among hundreds of Republican representatives ducking constituents during the February work break
Last week was the first district work break of the 115th Congress, a week-long recess from business in Washington during which representatives head back to the districts that elected them to keep in touch with the issues that matter to folks at home. .
Traditionally, members of Congress use these breaks to meet with constituents to gauge public opinion and hear from voters about the issues they would like to see their representatives address. But little about American politics in 2017 has been typical, and the Congressional work break was no exception.
Following weeks of protest against President Trump’s executive orders and moves by Congress to dismantle the Affordable Care Act without a viable replacement on the table, many representatives are opting out of public appearances and town hall meetings. According to Vice News, more than 200 Republican representatives are skipping public events during the work period in favor of tele-town halls and private events with pre-approved guest lists.
Paul Mitchell, the freshman representative of Michigan’s 10th District, is among them.
Mitchell, the former CEO and owner of Ross Medical Education Center, moved to the district in 2015 when long time 10th District representative Candice Miller announced she would not seek re-election. He spent $3.6 million of his own money on an aggressive primary campaign against State Senator Phil Pavlov, outspending his opponent nearly ten to one.
With major issues ranging from school vouchers to health care reform currently pending in Congress, Mitchell and his staff have received an unprecedented volume of calls and e-mails from voters.
Rather than taking the time to interact with those voters over the work break, however, Mitchell has opted for controlled discussions with carefully screened groups. He has also kept his schedule of events private, in order to avoid disruption by constituents upset about the lack of public town halls or coffee hours. Even staffers in his Shelby Township office claim to be unaware of his comings and goings, telling drop-in visitors that they don’t know if or when the Congressman would be present to hear their concerns.
Of particular concern to local residents is the pending repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Mitchell’s working class constituents will be among the hardest hit by the end of President Obama’s health care reform. In the 10th District, one in ten residents are currently insured either by an ACA marketplace plan or under the law’s expanded medicaid eligibility.
Mitchell is a supporter of the Republican repeal effort, characterizing efforts to defend the ACA as protecting the previous president’s legacy despite the law’s failure. In response to concerns about the repeal, he has touted his sponsorship of a bill protecting those with pre-existing conditions against coverage exclusions, though that bill does not address policy pricing or affordability.
A petition requesting a town hall meeting with Mitchell drew hundreds of signatures and small groups of constituents visited his Shelby Township office throughout the week to request a meeting. The Congressman has not responded to either effort.
In an appearance on the community access program Round Table, Mitchell defended his decision not to meet with voters in a public setting. He characterized town halls as “signs and screaming to get on TV” and suggested his strategy of meeting only in private with select groups better served the constituents of his district. And despite a token acknowledgement that he represents all the people of his district, he dismissed both the push for a town hall and high-profile policy concerns as motivated by partisan politics.
Mitchell has since returned to Washington, where the House reconvened this week to consider bills including the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the establishment of a nationwide school voucher program, and the elimination of major environmental protections.
The next Congressional work break is in mid-April.