Wolf Blitzer grills Rep. Marsha Blackburn on her claim that outsiders flooded her town hall

Rep. Marsha Blackburn talks outsiders at her town hall
(Image credit: CNN/YouTube)

Those Republicans who dutifully opted to meet with their constituents this week have gotten an earful from people angry about President Trump, his tax returns, the push to repeal ObamaCare, and other issues. Many of these lawmakers, along with the Trump administration, explained the anger by claiming that the people packing town hall events are paid or otherwise organized leftist agitators from outside their districts.

Democrats tried a similar defense in 2009 when their town hall events were flooded with angry conservatives, and they paid a steep cost in the 2010 midterm elections. In 2017, many of the people filling up the Republican town halls are "first-timers who echo in passion, though not in politics, the people who emerged early in the Tea Party movement in 2009," The Wall Street Journal reports, based on interviews at town halls around he U.S. "Most said they had never participated in a town hall or any political activism and had only recently joined or started local groups."

Blaming outsiders has its appeal, though, and on Wednesday, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), told CNN that "a little bit less than one-third in the room" at her town hall on Tuesday were people from her 7th congressional district. She repeated the claim on Thursday evening to CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who pressed her on how she'd arrived at that conclusion. Blackburn said she had been given the estimate by "people that were there that were watching the crowd and watching people come in," plus second-hand overheard line chatter and the number of cars in the parking lot with out-of-state plates. She seemed annoyed by the insistence on proof, accusing Blitzer of being "hung up on the percentages."

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Blackburn's office similarly declined Thursday to identify for The Tennessean the officials who had purportedly given the congresswoman the one-third figure, and Fairview city officials said they did not check residency, just that the person had reserved a spot. When Mayor Patti Carroll took a poll at the beginning of the town hall, almost everyone said they lived in the district. A list of attendees obtained by annoyed Fairview residents shows at least a solid majority of Blackburn's audience lives in her district.

One attendee, Rusty Gordon, told Raw Story that only the media was allowed to park in the lot, explaining the out-of-state plates. He also said only people who could prove they lived in the district were allowed to register for the event, an account backed up by The New York Times' Trip Gabriel but disputed by city officials.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.