Republican congressman meets the resistance at raucous Utah town hall

Rep. Jason Chaffetz got an earful Thursday night.

People react to Rep. Jason Chaffetz as he speaks during a town hall meeting at Brighton High School, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017, in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. Hundreds of people lined up early for the town hall with Chaffetz on Thursday evening CREDIT: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
People react to Rep. Jason Chaffetz as he speaks during a town hall meeting at Brighton High School, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017, in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. Hundreds of people lined up early for the town hall with Chaffetz on Thursday evening CREDIT: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

As Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) is in a key position to decide how and whether the Trump administration will be held accountable for its unprecedented conflicts of interest.

Chaffetz, however, has denied all calls to investigate President Trump. Earlier this week, Chaffetz told Politico that at a meeting with the president, he agreed to not even bring up the subject of oversight. But before the election, Chaffetz told reporters that he was preparing for “years” of investigations into Hillary Clinton.

At a town hall in Utah last night, thousands of his constituents turned up to tell him exactly what they thought of his inaction.

“Do your job! Do your job!” the crowd chanted, as Chaffetz trotted out Trump’s favorite excuse.

“You’re not going to like this part: the president, under the law, is exempt from conflict of interest laws,” Chaffetz told the crowd, to loud boos.

Only one answer on ethics was received with the crowd’s approval. Earlier Thursday, White House Senior Counselor Kellyanne Conway used an interview from the White House briefing room to give a “free commercial” for Ivanka Trump’s fashion line — appearing to be in clear violation of the laws governing federal employees.

Chaffetz touted his action in joining Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings to send a letter to the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), asking the office to investigate and recommend, based on their findings, “appropriate disciplinary action” to Conway’s supervising agency.

Conway’s supervising agency is the White House, which by indications thus far is unlikely to follow through on any recommended action. The only thing Press Secretary Sean Spicer has said is that Conway has been “counseled” — which, reportedly, was too much for President Trump, who found the comment unfair. Conway told Fox News after the incident that Trump supports her “100 percent.”

Chaffetz used this one action against the Trump administration to defend his record, while also indicating that he intends to hold to his policy of waving away similar questions surrounding the president.

“There’s no case to be made that we went soft on the White House,” Chaffetz said. “In terms of doing my job, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Before boos cut him off, Chaffetz also said that he won’t investigate the ways that Trump might personally profit from the presidency “until there’s evidence” that Trump has used his legal exemption from conflicts of interest to benefit his family. Politico reported Thursday that Trump has already received his first payment from a foreign government, the Saudis, for a room at his DC hotel.

Besides oversight, questions at the hall included defunding Planned Parenthood, vaccines, science, proposals to sell off public lands, and Chaffetz’s support of Trump after he slammed him for his treatment of women in October.

He left 40 minutes early, and took no questions from reporters.

Chaffetz’s loud reception at the town hall is just one more example of how Americans are stepping up to a more active role in their democracy after Trump’s inauguration. Many of those who attended were participating in the fast-growing Indivisible movement, which seeks to help constituents have a more active role in government.

The event on Thursday had already been moved from a smaller venue to the high school earlier in the week due to an overwhelming number of RSVPs, and those that made it in to the actual event started lining up hours before. Inside, the auditorium was near-packed, though the crowd questioned why there were still some empty seats in the back. Hundreds more were stuck outside, on the fire marshal’s orders.

The livestream broadcast by the Salt Lake Tribune has now been viewed 300,000 times.

Other Republican lawmakers have resisted calls from constituents to hold town halls, despite being swamped with calls and visits from constituents over their rubber-stamping of Trump’s agenda. Some have responded by locking their local offices and complaining that the protests aren’t coming from constituents, and therefore can be dismissed.

“I certainly do not need town halls to tell me how my constituents are feeling on the important issues of the day,” Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-TN) responded to a request. “I am certainly not going to hold town hall meetings in this atmosphere, because they would very quickly turn into shouting opportunities for extremists, kooks, and radicals.”

Earlier this week, ThinkProgress spoke with one of the Indivisible groups trying to get their congressman, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), to hold a town hall.

“The only way to represent the values of his constituents is to talk to his constituents, and to be visible within the community that he is supposed to represent,” Aaron McCall told ThinkProgress. “I’m not feeling heard. And I can tell you that a lot of people are not feeling heard.”

Back in Utah, Chaffetz’s constituents were given the opportunity that many others constituents across the country are actively fighting for. Often at a shout, they made themselves heard — but whether Chaffetz actually listened remains to be seen.