Resistance Report: Tom Cotton’s master class in holding a town hall

ON THE TOWN. Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas held a town hall for the ages in Springdale, Ark., Wednesday night, drawing pointed questions from an Obamacare supporter, a Lutheran pastor, a descendent of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and a 7-year-old boy.

“Opponents of President Donald Trump packed a 2,200-seat high school theater Wednesday night, firing questions at U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton and drowning out the state’s junior senator whenever they were dissatisfied with his answers,” reports the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “Hundreds more stood outside the Pat Walker Theater in Springdale, unable to gain admission after the fire marshal determined that the building was already full. A new anti-Trump group called Ozark Indivisible helped organize Wednesday’s meeting.”

There were long lines to get in:

People held up pieces of paper showing their ZIP codes to prove they were Cotton’s constituents, rather than outside agitators:

Mary Story from Fayetteville said she was not a paid protester, and Cotton replied, “I don’t really care if anybody here is paid or not. You’re all Arkansans. And I’m glad to hear from you.”

She also described herself as a descendant of five men who fought in the Revolutionary War, including one who signed the Declaration of Independence, and said she was concerned about the threat to constitutional rights under Trump. What was Cotton going to do to look into Trump’s ties to Russia, she wanted to know. Cotton said he supported investigating them through the Senate Intelligence Committee, rather than establishing a separate panel, because it would be faster. A later questioner contrasted that approach to the seven Benghazi probes, and Cotton replied that the Benghazi investigation delays helped inform his views on the matter.

A woman whose husband needed ongoing care dared Cotton to find her a better health insurance plan than the one she has under Obamacare that costs $39 a month.

And a 7-year-old boy implored Cotton not to cut PBS “just to build a wall.”

As heated as the forum got, Cotton demonstrated throughout that it’s possible to stay calm and respectful while facing off with a passionate audience full of people whose views are different than yours. Maybe it takes having a Harvard Law degree and military training to stay that unruffled, but other Republicans would do well to study his town hall. It turns out that town halls full of angry constituents don’t have the be the sort of disaster Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy’s was earlier Wednesday, when he was shouted into silence multiple times and an agitated questioner was led out by police. Nor do members of Congress have to cut them short when shouting breaks out, as Sen. Joni Ernst did at a town hall in Iowa on Tuesday. The meetings can, improbably, be a chance for members to show what they are made of.

Of course, the setup Cotton chose helped. He was on a stage, with the audience arrayed in seats in a sloped auditorium. And he also venue-shopped, moving the advertised location for the town hall multiple times, according to the Arkansas Times, and worked to pack the town hall with “friendlies.” The result was a mix of views, an array of incredibly well-informed questions, and less hostile shouting than some other town halls have seen.

You can watch the full video of the town hall here, courtesy of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

RYAN RIDES OFF. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan visited the U.S.-Mexico border on horseback Wednesday, as his Wisconsin aides pooh-poohed ongoing local efforts to sway him to hold a town hall meeting. “U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan has declined an invitation to attend a town hall meeting sponsored by local progressive group Forward Kenosha during the February recess,” reports the Kenosha News. “‘While we appreciate the clever attempt to get media coverage for their organization, Paul will be unable to assist in that effort,’ said Ryan press secretary Ian Martorana in a statement to the Kenosha News.”

NOT WITH A BANG… The Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock — the site of demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline — came to a quiet, fiery end Wednesday as the small band of remaining protesters ceremonially burned their temporary housing structures and marched out of the encampment in advance of a directive from the Army Corps of Engineers and the governor of North Dakota to leave or be arrested.

Others decided to stay and be arrested. “There’s a lot of sadness right now. We have to leave our second home,” Dom Cross, an Oglala Sioux from Pine Ridge, S.D., told the Associated Press. A new camp is being established on private land nearby, but is unlikely to draw the energy of the original protest, thanks to a mix of North Dakota’s harsh winter and the Trump administration’s decision to push forward with efforts to build the pipeline, reversing the protesters’ win under Obama in December.

NEW GROUP ALERT. Reports Politico: “Top lawyers who helped the Obama White House craft and hold to rules of conduct believe President Donald Trump and his staff will break ethics norms meant to guard against politicization of the government — and they’ve formed a new group to prepare, and fight. United to Protect Democracy, which draws its name from a line in President Barack Obama’s farewell address that urged his supporters to pick up where he was leaving off, has already raised a $1.5 million operating budget, hired five staffers and has plans to double that in the coming months.”