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Lawmakers' priority during recess: avoid town halls

Virulent meetings over healthcare reform lead some in Congress – especially Democrats – to seek less public ways to engage voters.

President Barack Obama arrives at a town hall meeting on health insurance reform at Portsmouth High School in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Tuesday.

Jim Young/Reuters

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For a member of Congress, the only thing worse than a perp walk is a deer-in-the-headlights moment, as when attacked at a public meeting.

Given the virulence lawmakers have encountered lately at some town-hall-style meetings about health reform legislation, those on both sides of the aisle – Democrats especially – are devising new strategies for engaging voters. Even members who have yet to face confrontational protesters have seen video clips of colleagues who have, and they are adapting.

As a result, the face-to-face town meeting, once a staple of the August congressional recess, is on the outs. In its place is a new array of “virtual” meetings – free of protest signs, shouting, bad media moments, and (real or suspected) “outside agitators."

These new platforms range from mass conference calls, or I-town hall meetings, to interactive Internet sites where voters register concerns and members, in their own time, respond.

A shift to 'virtual' meetings

Sen. Herb Kohl (D) of Wisconsin, who chairs the Senate Special Committee on Aging, set up a webcast on YouTube Thursday to explain to voters – no questions asked – the state of play on healthcare, especially the facts that there is yet no healthcare bill and that “no decisions have been made.”

Senator Kohl has scheduled healthcare-related events throughout the recess, but no rallies or town halls.

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