Goodlatte invites some to lunch: Protesters gather outside ask for town hall

U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte addresses protesters outside Carmella's Restaurant in Edinburg on Monday following a private luncheon among area leaders. Rich Cooley/Daily

EDINBURG – Congressman Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, invited area businesspeople, elected officials and other community leaders to a luncheon Monday to discuss, among other topics, President Donald Trump’s executive orders, the Affordable Care Act and Goodlatte’s role in what some perceived to be an attempt at weakening the Office of Congressional Ethics.

Edinburg’s Carmella’s Restaurant was the location selected for the talk, which was on an invitation-only basis. Goodlatte said that talks of this nature have been common throughout his time in Congress.

“This is really an opportunity for local elected officials, community leaders, leaders of nonprofit organizations (and) business leaders to talk about issues,” Goodlatte said. “This is something I’ve been doing the entire time that I’ve been in Congress and I do it all across my district. … We do these on a regular basis and it’s an opportunity for folks to hear what’s going on in Washington, but also, importantly to me, to tell me the things about issues that are going on here that may be of importance to them.”

Goodlatte, who has served Virginia’s 6th District since 1993, expressed support for Trump’s recent temporary travel ban on seven majority-Muslim nations early in the luncheon. A federal court injunction blocked the ban, which Trump enacted by way of executive order, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California recently upheld that injunction for the time being. The congressman said he agreed with the ban’s rationale, but had problems with its implementation.

“One of them (executive orders) has been particularly in the news related to trying to improve the vetting of people who are coming into our country from seven countries in the Middle East and North Africa where there have been a lack of the ability to get information from governments, where there have been lots of terrorist activities, where there have been lots of training camps, and this sort of thing for terrorist groups,” he said. “… Unfortunately, the way that was rolled out, I think (was) too quickly, without proper communications with these governments, with the airlines, with the airports. … Everybody has been behind the curve on that. It could have been handled a lot better than it was.”

Jeanette Smith, left, of Conicville, and Katharine Layton, right, of Fort Valley, with her dog Keke, protest outside Carmella's Restaurant in Edinburg Rich Cooley/Daily

Goodlatte was also asked about and defended his role in what was perceived as an attempt at weakening the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent organization that investigates alleged misconduct in the House of Representatives. The proposal passed, but was withdrawn shortly afterward after public outcry.

“I didn’t start that direction (moving toward weakening the OCE),” Goodlatte said. “What I did was I tried to add due process rights to people accused of wrongdoing in the outside office.”

He went on to say that what was perceived as an attempt to weaken the Office of Congressional Ethics was an attempt to establish standards, among other measures, for that office before it can refer cases to the House Committee on Ethics.

“I did not seek to eliminate it,” Goodlatte said. “I did not seek to stop people from being able to file outside claims but I did say that since it’s heavily used in campaigns to file ethics complaints against somebody who’s in Congress as a political tool, that people should have to disclose who they are when they file a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics and that the office itself should follow standards before they refer a case to the ethics committee.”

Goodlatte went on to address another hotly debated topic – the Affordable Care Act. The Congressman called the act a “disaster spiraling out of control” and confirmed his support for repealing and replacing the act with a “better plan” that he said will hold costs down and increase choice.

Protesters hold signs while U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte spoke during a private meeting with area leaders Monday afternoon at Carmella's Restaurant in Edinburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

“There are some people, about 4 percent of the population, that are heavily dependent on Obamacare,” Goodlatte said. “Four percent is the number of people who are in the exchanges. … It’s a small percentage, but a small percentage still means more than 10 million people that are dependent on this and we can’t leave them in the lurch. As we go to a different system, we will have a transition period to accomplish that.”

Goodlatte and his guests were not the only people present, as 25 protesters outside the restaurant expressed their concerns about the way they feel Goodlatte has been representing them. Chief among them was what they feel is inadequate accessibility to their elected official. Among the signs present, one read “Town Hall Now” and another, “Bob, we need to talk.”

One protester was Kay Ely-Pierce, with Shenandoah Indivisibles.

“He has not had a town hall meeting where he allows his constituents to actually dialogue with him since 2013,” she said. “It needs to be a meeting where all his constituents can be. That’s what a town hall is and that’s what we’re here for. We just want to talk to him. … That face-to-face dialogue is really the key to human understanding.”

Protesters explained that given the turbulent political climate of late, Goodlatte’s constituents have plenty they want their congressman to hear.

“It is becoming more immediate now … but I think for the most part, this lack of human interface with Mr. Goodlatte has become a problem,” Ely-Pierce said. “This will continue.”

The protesters stood just outside the restaurant as the congressman delivered his remarks inside.  Goodlatte explained why the event was closed to the public and offered ways for those seeking to communicate with him on how to do so.

“We have a large list and we invite people from that list and we encourage people to sign up for the list, but that’s how that works,” he said. “I am very, very accessible to them (protesters). I stopped and said hello to them on my way in here, but we have a multitude of different ways to communicate with our constituents, including telephone town hall meetings, including open-door meetings where they can speak to my staff – and everything that my staff receives from any constituent comes to me – and we always respond to them, too. We’re interested in hearing their concerns as well.”

Mark Pierce, a founding member of the Shenandoah Indivisibles from Maurertown, explained the reasoning behind the demonstration. Groups such as Call to Action Shenandoah County were also present.

“Our one and only concern today is to express to him that we want a town hall meeting with him,” Pierce said. “Not a closed door, three at a time, we want a town hall meeting where people can express their concerns and there are a lot of concerns. He has managed to avoid, as much as he can, any public back and forth with his constituents. … He’s not meeting with honest to God real, concerned constituents.”

Glenn Richardson, of Woodstock, added, “The government needs to be accountable to the people and he’s not being accountable to the people and he’s enabling government not to be accountable. This is the most out of touch representation. This is a lack of representation.”

When asked about the demonstrators’ desire for an in-person town hall meeting, Goodlatte said that he and his office are “considering what all of our options are,” and again referred to the telephone town halls, which Ely-Pierce likened to a child being raised by its parents via Skype.

Goodlatte described the protest as part of a larger, wider-reaching demonstration.

“This is a nationwide thing,” he said. “This is not something that’s unique to the 6th District. This is going on in every single congressional district in the country. It’s organized by a national organization that is not happy with the outcome of the election. These are my constituents so they’re welcome to be here and express their opinions as well.”

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or nbudryk@nvdaily.com