WASHINGTON -- Political protests that broke out last week are just getting started, Capitol Hill officials say.
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Demonstrators will be targeting some lawmakers' offices, the office of the U.S. Senate's sergeant-at-arms warned this week. Members of the House of Representatives have also been told of potential confrontations.
The sergeant-at-arms -- the chief law enforcement officer who oversees security for the upper chamber -- told Senate staff members that several protests were being organized and would take place in the coming days.
In a memo to Senate administrative managers and chiefs of staff, the sergeant-at-arms offered tips on "steps you can take to minimize disruption in your office."
Among the suggestions: require visitors to schedule appointments and provide identification; inform building security that protests may occur; and lock the office door if there isn't a reception area for visitors.
Staff members also were encouraged to be proactive.
"If you know protests are coming, try to meet with the organizer and agree to allow only one or two people in the office," the memo said.
There are 447 U.S. Senate offices outside of Washington, D.C., according to the sergeant-at-arms' office. There are more than 1,000 House district offices as well.
In 2009, Democratic lawmakers sometimes encountered protesters who were opposed to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Now it's Republicans who are being targeted by supporters of the law, which is often referred to as Obamacare. They're also objecting to President Donald Trump's Cabinet picks and to his refugee and travel restrictions.
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton's Springdale office was picketed by dozens of protesters last week.
In California, U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock faced a hostile crowd Feb. 4, according to The Sacramento Bee. Accompanied by at least five uniformed law enforcement officials, he was jeered as he left a town-hall-style meeting in Roseville, 20 miles northeast of the state capital.
In Cottonwood Heights, Utah, on Thursday, U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz was booed and heckled as he faced 1,000 constituents who had packed into a high school auditorium, the Deseret News reported.
Friday, more than 200 protesters confronted House and Senate staff members during a "constituent services" event in Greensboro, Ga., a town of 3,461 people about 35 miles southeast of Athens.
Aides to U.S. Rep. Jody Hice and U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Johnny Isakson were met with chants of "Shame, shame, shame" when they declined to debate the issues, The Atlanta Journal Constitution stated.
Other lawmakers also have encountered voter anger in recent days.
More demonstrations are likely, officials say. Members of the House Republican Conference were briefed Tuesday on how to respond.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, who attended the meeting, said lawmakers were encouraged to be vigilant.
"I've been in contact with my district office and everything's pretty mild there so far," the lawmaker from Hot Springs said.
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack also was present for the briefing. "Part of the message was about keeping your head on a swivel, being mindful of the fact that there's an angry element in our society that is looking for airtime and that they may show up at your doorstep and try to score a gotcha moment," he said.
The Republican lawmaker from Rogers said he won't be battening down the hatches when he's in Northwest Arkansas.
"The welcome mat is out in Womack's office and, agree or disagree, we're going to be respectful in airing how we feel," he said.
Constituents "deserve to be heard and I deserve to be heard when explaining how I feel or how I vote on certain things. ... I just ask people to be respectful, be civil," he said. "We all know what buttons you can push to kind of get people a little anxious, and let's just be careful not to push those buttons."
In the past, lawmakers sometimes struggled to attract crowds for their question-and-answer sessions. But interest has spiked since Trump's election.
And thanks to social media, the stakes have been raised. Any town-hall-style meeting "has the chance of going viral and [can] show that member [of Congress] in an unfavorable light," said Keith Lee Rupp, a Florida public relations executive and former congressional staff member.
With the advent of the smartphone, "the opportunities for those moments of political theater have grown exponentially," he added.
Brad Fitch, president of the Congressional Management Foundation, says it's good to see Americans getting involved in the political process. But Fitch, whose nonpartisan, nonprofit group promotes "best management, communications and citizen engagement practices" on Capitol Hill, is troubled at times by the vitriol.
"What the protesters or the activists need to know is that when they go in front of a member of Congress and they are uncivil to them, they are hurting their cause. They're not aiding it," Fitch said. "Yelling at your member of Congress isn't exactly out of the Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People book."
A Section on 02/11/2017
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