2017-02-08 / Featured / Front Page

Congressman faces growing dissent in 7th

Furor over Trump leads to movement: ‘Grill the Brat’

Dave Brat on election night. 
ASH DANIEL Dave Brat on election night. ASH DANIEL The election of Donald Trump appears to have energized a segment of Republican Rep. Dave Brat’s constituency that all but ignored him during his first term in Congress.

Fueled largely by concern over Trump’s cabinet selections and his policies on health care and immigration, many citizens of Virginia’s sprawling 7th Congressional District are pressing Brat to engage them at an open town hall meeting.

The Trump administration “is bringing people together like none other,” said Karen Peters, a Midlothian resident who first reached out to Brat’s staff shortly after the Nov. 8 election, but has been unsuccessful in convincing him to meet with a group of about 50 local constituents.

“When Dave Brat aligns himself with Trump and says repeatedly that he supports him, people in the 7th District are paying attention to that,” Peters added. “There is concern that he’s not doing a good job representing us. We feel like we need to have a conversation with him.”

U.S. Rep. Dave Brat celebrates his victory over Democrat Eileen Bedell on election night. His alignment with President Donald Trump on some issues, however, is generating considerable pushback in the 7th District. 
ASH DANIEL U.S. Rep. Dave Brat celebrates his victory over Democrat Eileen Bedell on election night. His alignment with President Donald Trump on some issues, however, is generating considerable pushback in the 7th District. ASH DANIEL Political pressure on Brat intensified after he met with conservative supporters last month in Hanover County and a recording of his comments was posted on Facebook. “Since Obamacare and these issues have come up, the women are in my grill no matter where I go,” Brat told the audience at Hanover Tavern.

If they weren’t before, they certainly are now.

Thousands of comments have been posted to the “7th District Town Hall Meeting” Facebook page over the past week – many from women outraged at Brat’s assertion that a significant percentage of Trump protestors actually are paid Democratic Party operatives.

“I doubt George Soros would have enough money to pay everyone protesting against the Spoiled Brat,” wrote Anne Berson.

The tone of the Facebook posts became even more heated once word filtered out that Brat plans to attend a Feb. 23 town hall meeting in Arizona as a guest of fellow GOP Rep. Paul Gosar.

“He needs to man up and sit down with the constituents in his own district,” said Elizabeth Hardin, chairwoman of the Chesterfield Democratic Committee. “That’s what he signed up for as an elected official. He should be accountable to the entire electorate.”

In the face of mounting criticism, Brat hosted a Facebook Live town hall last Tuesday. He spoke for about 35 minutes on a variety of issues, including the new president’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, his executive order halting immigration from seven Middle Eastern countries and congressional Republicans’ intention to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Brat previously had promised to meet with constituents once the flurry of legislative activity subsides following Trump’s first 100 days in office.

During the Facebook Live event, Brat said his staff has tentatively scheduled a town hall for Feb. 21, but he offered no details about the time or venue.

“Please know this is not meant to be a substitute for an in-person town hall,” he added. “I’m striving to be the most transparent, accessible member of Congress.”

Brat, a former economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, is less than three years removed from a stunning upset of Eric Cantor in the 2014 7th District Republican primary.

During that campaign, Brat repeatedly accused Cantor of spending more time flying across the country and rubbing elbows with deep-pocketed donors than listening to his own constituents. Brat’s message resonated with voters and took down the second-ranking Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Brat beat fellow Randolph-Macon professor Jack Trammell in the general election later that year, then won re-election last November by defeating another Democrat, Bon Air attorney Eileen Bedell.

Midlothian resident Ken Davis, one of Brat’s supporters on the “7th District Town Hall Meeting” Facebook page, thinks Brat has lived up to his pledge to remain responsive to his constituents.

During a 2015 town hall at Midlothian High School, a member of the audience said Brat already had held more public meetings with citizens in 12 months as a congressman than Cantor hosted in 12 years.

Brat also defended his own record, claiming he has hosted more than 30 public town halls across the 7th District over the past two years.

“I have 850,000 constituents,” he said. “I am doing my best to meet everybody, but it’s hard.”

Demand for an in-person town hall likely won’t subside any time soon.

A large group of citizens, many holding handwritten signs, gathered Sunday afternoon outside the Kroger supermarket in Midlothian, awaiting the arrival of the famous Oscar Meyer Weinermobile.

The tenor of the signs – one of which read “Grill the Brat” – left little doubt as to how participants in the impromptu protest feel about their congressman.

“He needs to understand we’re serious,” said Peters, who has started an online petition calling for Brat to host a public town hall meeting. “We’re not going away.” ¦

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