House Speaker Paul Ryan said concerns with disruptive protesters being bused in from outside his district have led him to find other ways to communicate with constituents rather than holding public town halls.
"I don’t want to have a situation where we just have a screaming fest, a shouting fest, where people are being bused in from out of the district to get on TV because they’re yelling at somebody," Ryan told reporters in Madison on Friday. "That does nobody any good. What I want to do is have a civil, good, quiet conversation with constituents."
That's why, Ryan said, he has turned to "new and creative" methods to connect with constituents, including telephone town halls, office hours and "employee town halls."
Ryan has held several of those employee town halls in the 1st Congressional District over the last week, visiting places like WPC Technologies in Oak Creek and Burlington Graphic Systems in Racine.
He's taken heat for the nature of those events, though, as the audiences are limited to employees of the companies that he visits. One such town hall yielded no questions about President Donald Trump or Republicans' efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Ryan argued employees "tend to clam up" when reporters are present, and said business town halls that are closed to press tend to be more interactive.
"I'm finding lots of ways to have good, civil dialogue with constituents," Ryan said.
Republican members of Congress who have held open town halls during the last few months have faced the ire of angry constituents over their plans to repeal and replace President Barack Obama's signature health care law. In Wisconsin, constituents and some liberal advocacy groups have held mock town halls, posing questions to empty chairs staged to represent Ryan and others.
"Ryan's only town hall this year was on CNN, prompting his hometown paper to urge him to do in-district town hall meetings," said Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesman Brandon Weathersby. "The bottom line is that the people of the First Congressional District want to speak with their Representative in person to learn why he supports kicking his own constituents off their health care insurance plans."
Ryan said constituents who want to meet with him can set up an appointment when he holds office hours.
The speaker was in Madison on Friday to receive a "Distinguished Citizen" award from the Boy Scout Region of Southern Wisconsin. A group of protesters with signs mostly related to health care stood at the entrance to the hotel where he spoke.
Ryan alluded to the protesters briefly during his comments to the Boy Scouts, urging them to take part in civil, reasoned debate and to find ways to "disagree without being disrespectful to each other."