Gabby Giffords to GOP lawmakers on town halls: 'Have some courage'


Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has a message for Republican lawmakers who may be using safety concerns as a reason not to hold town halls with their constituents: Suck it up.

"I was shot on a Saturday morning. By Monday morning my offices were open to the public," Giffords said in a statement after one GOP lawmaker invoked her as a reason not to hold in-person constituent events. "Ron Barber – at my side that Saturday, who was shot multiple times, then elected to Congress in my stead – held town halls. It's what the people deserve in a representative."

Giffords was shot and nearly died in 2011 while holding a constituent event in a parking lot in Tucson, Arizona. Six people were killed.

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Gabrielle Giffords, former U.S. Representative from Arizona, and her husband Mark Kelly, left, arrive to hear President Barack Obama, not pictured, speak in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016. Obama said expanding background checks to cover more firearms transactions wont trample on the right of Americans to own guns or lead to confiscation of weapons, as he made an emotional pitch for a package of executive actions intended to stem gun violence. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images *** Gabrielle Giffords; Mark Kelly
Former congresswoman and gun violence victim Gabrielle Giffords arrives to hear US President Barack Obama deliver a statement on executive actions to reduce gun violence on January 5, 2016 at the White House in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: Former United States congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords reacts after throwing the ceremonial first pitch of a game between the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers as her husband, retired astronaut, Mark Kelly looks on at Citi Field on July 23, 2015 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 02: Gabrielle Giffords is seen at LAX on April 02, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by GVK/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 04: Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and her husband Mark Kelly, attend a news conference in Cannon Building to introduce legislation that would expand background checks on firearms, March 4, 2015. The bill would expand existing requirements to sales that include transactions that transpire through the internet, gun shows, and classified ads. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 04: Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., greets Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., right, after a news conference in Cannon Building to introduce legislation that would expand background checks on firearms, March 4, 2015. The bill would expand existing requirements on sales that include transactions that transpire through the internet, gun shows, and classified ads. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 10: (EXCLUSIVE ACCESS, SPECIAL RATES APPLY) Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (R), joined by husband Captain Mark Kelly, speaks at the 'Not One More' Event at Urban Zen on February 10, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images)
Former congresswoman and shooting survivor Gabrielle Giffords, listens as her husband, Captain Mark Kelly, describes the day Giffords was shot in 2011. Kelly was speaking in the State of Maine room at Portland City Hall Saturday, July 6, 2013, as part of their Rights and Responsibilities tour, promoting background checks for gun owners. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
FARGO, ND - JULY 3: Retired Astronaut Captain Mark Kelly hugs his wife former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords before an appearance at Atomic Coffee during the Americans for Responsible Solutions tour in Fargo, North Dakota, on Wednesday, July 3, 2013. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 17: U.S. President Barack Obama (3L) makes a statement on gun violence as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (4L), former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (L) and family members of Newtown, CT shooting victims look on in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 17, 2013 in Washington, DC. Earlier today the Senate defeated a bi-partisan measure to expand background checks for gun sales. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Former Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly attend a dedication ceremony naming a Capitol Visitor Center conference room in honor of slain Giffords' aide Gabe Zimmerman at the US Capitol in Washington on April 16, 2013. Zimmerman was killed in the January 2011 shooting that left 6 dead and Giffords severely wounded at an event in Tucson, Arizona. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 16: Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and her husband Mark Kelly, attend a ceremony to dedicate the Gabe Zimmerman Meeting Room in the Capitol Visitor Center. Zimmerman was a Giffords staffer who was killed in the 2011 Tucson shootings that injured Giffords. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 23: Justin Timberlake, Mark Kelly and Gabrielle Giffords attend TIME 100 Gala, TIME'S 100 Most Influential People In The World at Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 23, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage for TIME)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 23: (L-R) Former House representative Gabrielle Giffords, actor Daniel Day-Lewis, filmmaker Steven Spielberg, and former astronaut Mark Kelly attend the TIME 100 Gala, TIME'S 100 Most Influential People In The World reception at Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 23, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for TIME)
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Republicans have faced crowds of protesters and sometimes heated exchanges at town hall events across the country. Protesters have demanded that representatives support investigations into whether President Donald Trump's family business activities violate ethics laws and have urged them not to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

With activist groups encouraging such gatherings, some – including the Trump White House and Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight committee and the target of one of the first town hall protests this year – have claimed the demonstrators are part of a paid or "professional" effort, rather than constituents appearing to express genuine anger with their representatives.

But as the crowds began making their voices heard at town halls across the country, GOP lawmakers earlier this month held a meeting to discuss how to keep themselves safe, Politico reported. And as they headed back to their home districts over the Presidents Day recess, the House sergeant-at-arms issued a memo telling lawmakers to be vigilant.

"There is a growing ugliness out there," Rep. Tom McClintock, a California Republican who held an event this month that drew large crowds, told CNN. "We were warned by both the Capitol police and the local police that there was local agitation."

Some lawmakers this year have been opting out of doing events all together. According to a Feb. 16 report by Vice on Legistorm data, the roughly 290 Republicans in Congress had scheduled just 88 in-person town halls during the opening months of Congress. Two years ago, during the first two months of the 114th Congress, Republicans hosted 222 in-person events.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, meanwhile, touched a nerve on Tuesday when he invoked Giffords as his reason for avoiding such public events.

"Threats are nothing new to me and I have gotten my share as a felony judge," Gohmert said in a letter explaining why he was holding telephone town halls rather than in-person events. "However, the House sergeant-at-arms advised us after former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot at a public appearance, that civilian attendees at congressional public events stand the most chance of being harmed or killed – just as happened there."

"When the threat of violence at town hall meetings recedes, we can go back to having the civil town hall meetings I've had in the past to supplement the masses reached in our telephone town halls," he said.

Giffords, who has continued to hold public events since her resignation from Congress and her recovery to advocate for stronger gun laws, was not impressed.

"To the politicians who have abandoned their civic obligations, I say this: Have some courage," she said. "Face your constituents. Hold town halls."

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report


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