Many members of Congress are at home right now and are getting an earful from constituents about President Trump. One member with a difficult balancing act is Iowa Republican Rod Blum
He’s a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus but he represents a swing district.
About 20 people stand near a pizza restaurant in Cedar Rapids. They’re holding signs that say things like “Where’s My Congressman?” and “Meet with Your Constituents.” Inside the restaurant, Congressman Rod Blum meets privately with a group of gun owners who’ve invited him to speak with them. Isaac Murtha is one of the protesters standing outside.
“He’s a far-right extremist. He’s a member of the freedom caucus in a district which is pretty purple which makes absolutely no sense to me,” Murtha says.
There’s a tradition in Iowa for politicians to be easily accessible to the public. Most of the state’s congressional delegation have held town halls this year. Ben Hanson worked pretty hard to get into this meeting. He’s a nurse, veteran and gun owner.
“He said he will never vote along partisan lines. He will never vote strictly for the freedom caucus. He will always vote what’s good for the people of his district,” Hanson says. “So my question to him would be how is he going to know what’s good for the people of his district if he won’t meet with us and listen to us?”
Hanson is referring to a group he organized that meets every Thursday to talk politics at The Blue Strawberry Coffee Company in downtown Cedar Rapids. On this day, there’s eight of them sitting around a table underneath a giant American flag. Every Thursday they discuss a different issue and then meet with the Congressman’s staff. Hanson’s wife, Amy Adams, is here today.
She’s a teacher and leads the local chapter of Indivisible - a liberal activist group that’s popped up since President’s Trump inauguration.
“We want to share the concerns that we’re sharing on Thursdays to the Congressman,” Adams says.
They say they disagree with their congressman on most of the issues… from climate change to the Affordable Care Act. Even people like John Hernandez who voted for Blum don’t feel he’s been effective.
“All that’s been happening since Trump got in office it just seems like the working class is being thrown under the bus,” Hernandez says.
But Blum insists he’s not hiding from anyone. The Congressman recently met with the staff of an AmeriCorps training facility in the small town of Vinton to learn what the program does
Blum says he listens to his constituents regularly. For example, he opposed the Republican replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act because he says it was rushed and didn’t bring premiums down for everyone. He says representing a swing district keeps him on his toes.
“In this district if you want to be an effective legislator and represent all of the people, I’ve got to listen to all of the sides and I always end the day for what’s best for eastern Iowans,” Blum says. “Not everybody’s going to agree.”
Blum says he’s aware of the Indivisible movement. The group encourages supporters to ask provocative questions to Republican members of Congress at town halls. Blum isn’t impressed.
“It says to show up and get in your member of Congress’s face. Make sure it’s being videotapes and make sure the media gets you yelling at them,” Blum says.
Blum has four town hall meetings scheduled next month.
“They’re going to be big. They’re going to be beautiful. They’re going to be full of love,” Blum says. “I’m looking forward to them, they’re going to be fun.”
Republicans are actually outnumbered in this district even as they’ve managed to win it twice. And Blum says he knows how people feel here, even if they don’t agree with him.