TOWN HALL PROJECT - 2019 Congressional Accountability Report - Rev. 1/23/20

In our third year conducting nationwide rapid research into the schedules of members of Congress--and encouraging Americans everywhere to show up and speak out to their elected officials--Town Hall Project is happy to share our most comprehensive data set yet.

And we’re very pleased to see a continuing trend from our earlier report this year: town hall numbers are up sharply -- from 1,884 town halls held by sitting members of Congress in 2017 to just 1,096 town halls in 2018, there were 2,695 town halls held in 2019.

2019: THE TOWN HALL IS BACK

After a steep decline in 2018, in part fueled by a large number of Republican members of Congress who ceased to hold town halls entirely after the often-contentious public meetings during the attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017, we are heartened to see a clear positive trendline in town halls being held by members of Congress.

Encouragingly, town halls are up among both parties, even with Republicans losing a substantial number of seats in the House since 2018.

While far too many members of Congress remain “missing” and inaccessible to the people they work for, we applaud a growing group of members for this positive 2019 trend and encourage Americans across the political spectrum to continue to demand more of the people we have elected to represent us.

2017

1,884 total

1,060 Democratic

824 Republican

2018

1096 total

691 Democratic

405 Republican

2019

2,695 total

1.741 Democratic

954 Republican

FRESHMEN LEAD THE WAY

A particularly heartening development is the substantial upswing in town hall and other public engagement events by freshman members of the 116th Congress.

Freshmen were responsible for more than a third of the total town halls held by members of this Congress, despite making up less than 19% of Congress.

The disparity is even more dramatic when broken down by party. 100% of Democratic freshmen members have held at least one town hall event vs. just 61% of Congress as a whole (and 58% of Republican freshmen in this Congress).

The Democratic freshman class in the House, in particular, pride themselves on being available to their constituents, especially after many of them made lawmaker accessibility a prominent issue in their 2018 challenger campaigns.

At the end of their first 100 days, freshman leaders Rep. Joe Neguse (CO-02), Rep. Katie Hill (CA-25), and Rep. Haley Stevens (MI-11) took to the House floor to celebrate the historic efforts at accessibility by this freshman class. And Town Hall Project’s executive director recently sat down with Rep. Neguse to discuss why he believes this freshman class is setting a new standard for Congress in the years to come.

We hope this enthusiasm for accessibility rubs off on their peers in Congress, and those seeking the office in 2020. Town hall accessibility is good governance and good politics.

MOCs holding at least one town hall

House Freshmen Democrats

63 out of 63

100%

House Freshmen GOP

22 out of 38

58%

Class of 2018 Senate Democrats

0 out of 2

0%

Class of 2018 Senate GOP

2 out of 7

29%

All House Democrats

198 out of 232

85%

All House GOP

88 out of 197

45%

All Senate Democrats

22 out of 47*

47%

All Senate GOP

12 out of 53

23%

Congress as a whole

321 out of 530

61%

*Including King and Sanders, Independents who caucus with Senate Democrats.

STANDOUT FRESHMEN

Unsurprisingly, some of the members holding town halls at the highest rate, are those who recently upset incumbents in 2018, and are likely to face serious challenges of their own in 2020.

Additionally, a significant percentage of freshmen who frequently hold town halls took Town Hall Project’s Town Hall Pledge in 2018, a commitment to their constituents to hold a minimum of four town halls per year.

Name

Party

District

Chamber

2019 Town Halls

Cindy Axne

(D)

IA-03

H

57

Antonio Delgado

(D)

NY-19

H

33

Sean Casten

(D)

IL-06

H

27

Kim Schrier

(D)

WA-08

H

26

Joe Neguse

(D)

CO-02

H

24

Xochitl Torres Small

(D)

NM-02

H

24

Rashida Tlaib

(D)

MI-13

H

22

Steve Watkins

(R)

KS-02

H

21

Josh Harder

(D)

CA-10

H

20

Tom Malinowski

(D)

NJ-07

H

20

Lauren Underwood

(D)

IL-14

H

19

Kendra Horn

(D)

OK-05

H

19

John Curtis

(R)

UT-03

H

18

Abigail Spanberger

(D)

VA-07

H

18

Mike Levin

(D)

CA-49

H

17

Jason Crow

(D)

CO-06

H

17

Andy Levin

(D)

MI-09

H

16

Andy Kim

(D)

NJ-03

H

16

Ben Cline

(R)

VA-06

H

16

Elissa Slotkin

(D)

MI-08

H

15

Haley Stevens

(D)

MI-11

H

15

Van Taylor

(R)

TX-03

H

15

TOP PERFORMERS

While Democrats on the whole hold town halls at a substantially higher rate, the leading town hall holders in both the House and Senate are Republicans.

Name

Party

District

Chamber

2019 Town Halls

Jerry Moran

(R)

KS

S

73

Roger Marshall

(R)

KS-01

H

63

Cindy Axne

(D)

IA-03

H

57

Ron Wyden

(D)

OR

S

50

Jim Sensenbrenner

(R)

WI-05

H

48

Steve King

(R)

IA-04

H

40

Greg Walden

(R)

OR-02

H

40

Jeff Merkley

(D)

OR

S

37

Antonio Delgado

(D)

NY-19

H

33

Joni Ernst

(R)

IA

S

33

Frank Lucas

(R)

OK-03

H

31

Mike Conaway

(R)

TX-11

H

30

Sean Maloney

(D)

NY-18

H

29

Sean Casten

(D)

IL-06

H

27

Kim Schrier

(D)

WA-08

H

26

Tom O'Halleran

(D)

AZ-01

H

26

Joe Neguse

(D)

CO-02

H

24

Xochitl Torres Small

(D)

NM-02

H

24

Mike Crapo

(R)

ID

S

24

A LITTLE COMPETITION

2019 also saw the trend of Republicans members of Congress who had previously been “Missing Members,” (those not holding a single town hall event during the 115th Congress) holding their first town halls in years, some of them, like Rep. Steve King (IA-04) and Steve Chabot (OH-01), at great frequency.

In most of these cases, their challengers took the Town Hall Pledge and each made town hall accessibility prominent issues in their campaigns. Despite falling short at the ballot box, it’s clear these challengers spurred the victorious incumbents to take accessibility to their constituents much more seriously this year.

Name

Party

District

2016 margin of victory

2017-2018 Town Halls

2018 margin of victory

2019 Town Halls

2018 Pledge Challenger?

Rob Woodall*

(R)

GA-07

20.8%

0

0.2%

1

Y

Rodney Davis

(R)

IL-13

19.40%

0

0.8%

3

Y

John Carter

(R)

TX-31

21.9%

0

2.9%

2

Y

Steve King

(R)

IA-04

22.6%

0

3.4%

40

Y

Steve Chabot

(R)

OH-01

18.4%

0

4.4%

17

Y

Roger Williams

(R)

TX-25

20.6%

0

8.7%

9

Y

Robert Wittman

(R)

VA-01

23.3%

0

10.5%

5

Y

Christopher Smith

(R)

NJ-04

30.2%

0

12.3%

1

N

Susan Brooks*

(R)

IN-05

27.2%

0

13.6%

2

N

Randy Weber

(R)

TX-14

23.8%

0

19.9%

3

Y

Austin Scott

(R)

GA-08

35.2%

0

No challenger

1

N

*Retiring

DOUBLING DOWN

At the same time, of the 105 “Missing Members” from 2017-2018 still in Congress, 83 of them have not held a single town hall meeting with their constituents in 2019.

These Missing Member holdouts include longtime incumbents in perceived “safe” states or districts like Sen. Richard Shelby (AL) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY), but also members who narrowly won their last election, like Sen. Ted Cruz (TX), Rep. Devin Nunes (CA-22), and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (AZ).

We hope these “Missing Members” consider that the culture of expectations of town hall accessibility is only going to grow since the last election, and they will find themselves facing tough questions on why they aren’t taking the time to meet with the people they work for.

2020 SENATE INCUMBENTS

A far smaller percentage of senators--of both parties--hold town halls when compared to their colleagues in the House, and the senators up for re-election in 2020 are no exception.

While some incumbents expecting stiff challenges--like Sen. Doug Jones (AL) and Sen. Joni Ernst (IA)--are making town halls with their constituents a priority, others like Sen. Thom Tillis (NC), Sen. John Cornyn (TX), Sen. Susan Collins (ME), and Sen. Cory Gardner (CO) have held exactly zero.

Name

Party

State

2019 Town Halls

Jeff Merkley

(D)

OR

37

Joni Ernst

(R)

IA

33

Doug Jones

(D)

AL

15

Christopher Coons

(D)

DE

7

Edward Markey

(D)

MA

5

Richard Durbin

(D)

IL

3

Mark Warner

(D)

VA

3

Jeanne Shaheen

(D)

NH

2

Gary Peters

(D)

MI

1

Tina Smith

(D)

MN

1

Mike Rounds

(R)

SD

1

Cindy Hyde-Smith

(R)

MS

0

David Perdue

(R)

GA

0

James Risch

(R)

ID

0

Mitch McConnell

(R)

KY

0

Steve Daines

(R)

MT

0

Thom Tillis

(R)

NC

0

James Inhofe

(R)

OK

0

John Cornyn

(R)

TX

0

Martha McSally

(R)

AZ

0

Kelly Loeffler

(R)

GA

0

Cory Booker

(D)

NJ

0

Jack Reed

(D)

RI

0

Dan Sullivan

(R)

AK

0

Tom Cotton

(R)

AR

0

Cory Gardner

(R)

CO

0

Bill Cassidy

(R)

LA

0

Susan Collins

(R)

ME

0

Ben Sasse

(R)

NE

0

Lindsey Graham

(R)

SC

0

Shelly Moore Capito

(R)

WV

0

In bold: races expected to be competitive.

TOWN HALL PLEDGERS

The “Town Hall Pledge” program has been a thrilling success. We have seen over 300 candidates take the Pledge to their constituents--including 39 members of the 116th Congress, as well as state legislators, and other elected officials--including Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Pledgers in Congress have held 482 town halls so far, a rate that far outpaces the average members of Congress (12.4 town halls per pledger vs. 4.4 per non-pledger).

Name

Party

District

Chamber

2019 Town Halls

Cindy Axne

(D)

IA-03

H

57

Antonio Delgado

(D)

NY-19

H

33

Sean Maloney

(D)

NY-18

H

29

Sean Casten

(D)

IL-06

H

27

Rashida Tlaib

(D)

MI-13

H

22

Debbie Dingell

(D)

MI-12

H

21

Josh Harder

(D)

CA-10

H

20

Abigail Spanberger

(D)

VA-07

H

18

Jason Crow

(D)

CO-06

H

17

Matt Cartwright

(D)

PA-08

H

17

Andy Levin

(D)

MI-09

H

16

Andy Kim

(D)

NJ-03

H

16

Haley Stevens

(D)

MI-11

H

15

Mark Pocan

(D)

WI-02

H

13

Angie Craig

(D)

MN-02

H

12

Katie Porter

(D)

CA-45

H

11

Dean Phillips

(D)

MN-03

H

11

Anthony Brindisi

(D)

NY-22

H

11

Mary Scanlon

(D)

PA-05

H

9

Elaine Luria

(D)

VA-02

H

9

Bryan Steil

(R)

WI-01

H

9

Eric Swalwell

(D)

CA-15

H

9

Jennifer Wexton

(D)

VA-10

H

8

Lizzie Fletcher

(D)

TX-07

H

7

Colin Allred

(D)

TX-32

H

7

Kevin Cramer

(R)

ND

S

6

Joe Manchin

(D)

WV

S

6

Lucy McBath

(D)

GA-06

H

5

Steven Horsford

(D)

NV-04

H

5

Nanette Barragán

(D)

CA-44

H

5

Raja Krishnamoorthi

(D)

IL-08

H

5

Adam Smith

(D)

WA-09

H

5

Susie Lee

(D)

NV-03

H

4

Sylvia Garcia

(D)

TX-29

H

4

Jan Schakowsky

(D)

IL-09

H

4

James Comer

(R)

KY-01

H

4

Jamie Raskin

(D)

MD-08

H

4

Dan Crenshaw

(R)

TX-02

H

1

Tim Ryan

(D)

OH-13

H

0

LEADERSHIP

Of senior Congressional leadership (Speaker, Senate Majority Leader, House Minority Leader, Senate Minority Leader), only Speaker Nancy Pelosi, held a town hall with her constituents in 2019. And among the broader leadership in each chamber, the rate of town halls held lags behind Congress as a whole.

While we understand members of Congress in leadership have additional duties that often keep them in Washington D.C. longer, or require them to make additional travel to other parts of the country, there is still no justification for holding zero public dialogues with their own constituents in all of 2019. If anything, members in leadership should set an example for the rest of Congress, not lag behind.

Name

Party

District

Leadership Position

2019 Town Halls

Patty Murray

(D)

WA

Assistant Minority Leader

0

Ben Luján

(D)

NM-03

Assistant Speaker

5

Debbie Stabenow

(D)

MI

Chair of Policy & Communications Committee

4

Hakeem Jeffries

(D)

NY-08

Dem Caucus Chairman

6

John Barrasso

(R)

WY

GOP Conference Chair

0

Gary Palmer

(R)

AL-06

GOP Policy Committee Chair

1

Roy Blunt

(R)

MO

GOP Policy Committee Chair

0

Todd Young

(R)

IN

GOP Senate Committee Chair

0

Mitch McConnell

(R)

KY

Majority Leader

0

Steny Hoyer

(D)

MD-05

Majority Leader

0

James Clyburn

(D)

SC-06

Majority Whip

3

John Thune

(R)

SD

Majority Whip

0

Chuck Schumer

(D)

NY

Minority Leader

0

Kevin McCarthy

(R)

CA-23

Minority Leader

0

Richard Durbin

(D)

IL

Minority Whip

3

Steve Scalise

(R)

LA-01

Minority Whip

1

Nancy Pelosi

(D)

CA-12

Speaker

1

Elizabeth Warren

(D)

MA

Vice Chair of Conference

0

Joni Ernst

(R)

IA

Vice Chair of GOP Conference

33

HALFWAY OUT THE DOOR

Over half of members of Congress who have announced their retirements have ceased to hold public events with their constituents--with the notable exceptions of members who have announced intentions to run for higher office.

This is expected but still disappointing. These members continue to represent their districts and states, and continue to draw a salary from taxpayers. By ignoring this key part of their duties in their remaining months in office they do their taxpayers a disservice.

We would single out both Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-05) and Mike Conaway (TX-11) for praise for continuing to prioritize their constituents even after they’ve expressed their intention to retire.

Name

Party

District

Chamber

2019 Town Halls

2020 re-election

Roger Marshall

(R)

KS-01

H

53

Other Office

Jim Sensenbrenner

(R)

WI-05

H

48

Retiring

Greg Walden

(R)

OR-02

H

40

Retiring

Mike Conaway

(R)

TX-11

H

30

Retiring

Bradley Byrne

(R)

AL-01

H

10

Other Office

Peter Visclosky

(D)

IN-01

H

9

Retiring

Phil Roe

(R)

TN-01

H

6

Retiring

Ben Luján

(D)

NM-03

H

5

Other Office

Susan Davis

(D)

CA-53

H

3

Retiring

Joseph Kennedy

(D)

MA-04

H

2

Other Office

Nita M. Lowey

(D)

NY-17

H

2

Retiring

Susan Brooks

(R)

IN-05

H

2

Retiring

Denny Heck

(D)

WA-10

H

1

Retiring

Pat Roberts

(R)

KS

S

1

Retiring

Pete Olson

(R)

TX-22

H

1

Retiring

Rob Woodall

(R)

GA-07

H

1

Retiring

Greg Gianforte

(R)

MT-AL

H

0

Other Office

Paul Cook

(R)

CA-08

H

0

Other Office

Tulsi Gabbard

(D)

HI-02

H

0

Other Office

Bill Flores

(R)

TX-17

H

0

Retiring

David Loebsack

(D)

IA-02

H

0

Retiring

Francis Rooney

(R)

FL-19

H

0

Retiring

George Holding

(R)

NC-02

H

0

Retiring

John Shimkus

(R)

IL-15

H

0

Retiring

José Serrano

(D)

NY-15

H

0

Retiring

Kenny Marchant

(R)

TX-24

H

0

Retiring

Lamar Alexander

(R)

TN

S

0

Retiring

Mac Thornberry

(R)

TX-13

H

0

Retiring

Mark Meadows

(R)

NC-11

H

0

Retiring

Mark Walker

(R)

NC-06

H

0

Retiring

Martha Roby

(R)

AL-02

H

0

Retiring

Mike Enzi

(R)

WY

S

0

Retiring

Paul Mitchell

(R)

MI-10

H

0

Retiring

Peter King

(R)

NY-02

H

0

Retiring

Rob Bishop

(R)

UT-01

H

0

Retiring

Ted Yoho

(R)

FL-03

H

0

Retiring

Tom Graves

(R)

GA-14

H

0

Retiring

Tom Udall

(D)

NM

S

0

Retiring

Will Hurd

(R)

TX-23

H

0

Retiring

OUR METHODOLOGY

The data in this report is from January 1 to December 31, 2019.

We use the term “town hall” to refer to any public event held by a member of Congress in their official capacity that meets the following conditions:

Town Halls must:

-Be free and open to the public. (We discourage but grudgingly accept town halls that require RSVPs).

-Be announced with at least 24 hours’ notice.

-Feature at least 30 minutes of open Q&A.

-Be held within the lawmaker’s district (or, for a U.S. senator, state), or (in certain multi-district metro areas) be held within a 30 minute drive of their district.

 

Town Halls can:

-Be dedicated to a specific topic (e.g. “Health care town hall,” “Immigration town hall,”, etc.)

-Be hosted by multiple lawmakers.

-Feature other speakers as long as the lawmaker is the primary speaker and is available to answer questions for at least 30 minutes.

 

Town Halls may not:

-Be limited to a specific segment of the lawmaker’s constituents (e.g. only Republicans, nurses, veterans, seniors, employees of a specific company). If restricted, this event fits in the Other category.

-Screen questions in any way.

-Be closed to the press.

We also reserve the right to disqualify events that are held in transparent bad faith or otherwise violate the understood purpose of these events--to foster an honest, open dialogue between constituents and their representatives.

OUR RESEARCH METHODS

The heart of Town Hall Project is our nationwide team of volunteer researchers who are assigned several members of Congress to research and report on throughout the week. Our volunteer research is supplemented by public event submissions, direct communication with congressional offices, digital tools to monitor social media, and staff verification to catch missed events and evaluate submissions.

To prepare for this report, our team conducted a full audit of our entire event database.

We are always improving the quality and comprehensiveness of our event data, so if we are missing events or there are other needed corrections to the record, we encourage you to contact us at info@townhallproject.com.

DEFINITIONS

We use the New York Times definition of freshman members of Congress. For simplicity we categorize independents who caucus with Democrats (Sen. Angus King and Sen. Bernie Sanders) as Democrats in our analysis.

Town Hall Project is a project of the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a 501(c)4 public welfare organization.