On Monday, Congressman Rod Blum (R-Iowa) had an interview with Josh Scheinblum, the chief investigative reporter with KCRG-TV 9 (the ABC affiliate in Cedar Rapids), before a town hall meeting in Dubuque.
He walked out of the interview after two minutes. Watch below:
Scheinblum started by asking why they were checking IDs at his first town hall. Blum replied they only wanted residents from Iowa’s 1st Congressional District to attend.
Scheinblum countered that some people believe that he represents all of Iowa to which Blum replied that he doesn’t, he represents the First District.
The tipping point was this exchange:
Scheinblum: “Shouldn’t all Iowans have a voice at the table or at least have the option to?”
Blum: “I don’t represent all Iowans, I represent the First District of Iowa. That would be like saying, ‘Shouldn’t I be able to, even though I live in Dubuque, go vote in Iowa City during the election because I would like to vote in that district instead?'”
Scheinblum: “Would you still take donations from a Republican in Iowa City?”
Blum then got up and said, “I’m done.” As he walked out the door, he said, “this is ridiculous.” Scheinblum attempted to get him sit down so they could “talk about the issues.”
First, the donation question by Scheinblum wasn’t journalism. It was an attempt to make Blum foolish, and it was unprofessional. If he wanted to talk about the issues, then he should stick to the issues.
Second, Blum is right; he does just represent the 1st Congressional District of Iowa. He does not represent all Iowans. There are some benefits to limiting town hall attendance to constituents. They get the opportunity to be heard, more constituents can get questions in, and it eliminates the possibility of out-of-town or out-of-state attendees from taking over the meeting.
This policy shouldn’t be controversial for members of Congress, regardless of party, to limit their town halls to constituents. I think more should.
Now if Blum limited his town hall to Republicans, that would have been a story, and it would have been wrong. In this case, his screening stopped some who wanted to come in and protest. Guess what? He still had people, from his district, on hand who disagreed with his vote on the American Health Care Act.
Third, Blum should not have walked out of the interview. That suddenly becomes the story. He turned a non-story (only allowing constituents in the town hall) into a story (look at this Congressman who can’t handle questions). Here are some ways he could have responded instead of walking out:
- “Partisan questions like that are why a majority of Americans don’t trust the media.”
- “I’ll answer serious questions you have about the issues.”
- “I have yet to meet an out-of-town protester who donated to my campaign.”
- “While I would graciously accept a donation from a Republican from Iowa City, they wouldn’t be allowed into this town hall. It’s just for constituents.”
- “I don’t know of a single member of Congress who doesn’t have donors from outside their district. What’s your point? I should give them special access?”
Or something similar. A hostile media is part and parcel of being a member of Congress. He needs to be prepared for hostile questions from the media. Don’t turn them into a martyr.