House Speaker Paul Ryan joined CNN's Jake Tapper for a nationally-televised town hall in Ryan's Wisconsin district Monday night. CNN picked the questioners and the questions, promising to cover a range of topics of concern to Ryan's constituents and Americans in general. Many of those questions had a local feel, since Ryan stressed that he personally knew this or that questioner, or some member of the questioner's family.
The topics included President Trump's plan for Afghanistan, announced minutes before the event began. There was a lot on the aftermath of Charlottesville, Va., and Trump's statements regarding it. (One questioner, the sister of former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, asked Ryan whether he would support censure of the president; Ryan said no and predicted such an action would be a "partisan hack-fest" and a "political food fight.") There was a question, from a Republican perspective, on the GOP's failure to repeal and replace Obamacare. A question on tax reform. A question on anti-poverty policy. A question on the newly-announced plans for tech giant Foxconn to build a plant in Wisconsin. A question (from the county medical examiner) on the opioid crisis. A question on the North Korea crisis. A question on the state of the Republican Party. And finally, from Tapper, a question about the progress of Rep. Steve Scalise, wounded in June in an attack by an anti-Republican gunman.
So there were plenty of questions, on plenty of subjects. But there was not one question, nor one word said, about the issue that has consumed Washington in recent months: the Trump-Russia affair, or the Robert Mueller investigation into it. Or, for that matter, about Russia itself.
Even though the event, at the Racine Theatre Guild, was in Ryan's district, it was not a predominantly Republican audience. Nor were most of the questions from a GOP perspective. There were clearly negative feelings about the president in the crowd. (A recent NBC/Marist poll found Trump with a 34 percent job approval rating and a 61 percent personal disapproval rating in Wisconsin.) There seemed to be no hesitation to ask Ryan about Trump's actions or statements. And yet no one mentioned the Russia affair.
In several conversations recently, local Republican leaders in Wisconsin stressed that there was little voter concern over the Russia affair. In other states, some Democrats have expressed worries that their party has made too big a deal of the issue. An article in The Hill in June, "Dems push leaders to talk less about Russia," had three examples:
"We can't just talk about Russia because people back in Ohio aren't really talking that much about Russia, about Putin, about Michael Flynn," said Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan. "They're trying to figure out how they're going to make the mortgage payment, how they're going to pay for their kids to go to college, what their energy bill looks like."
"I did a 22-county tour," said Minnesota Democratic Rep. Tim Walz. "Nobody's focusing on that."
"If you see me treating Russia and criticism of the president and things like that as a secondary matter, it's because that's how my constituents feel about it," said Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright.
As for Ryan, one town hall isn't proof of anything. But at Monday's CNN event, voters had a chance to ask the speaker anything, and presumably picked the topics most important to themselves and their families. And they said nothing about the Trump-Russia affair.