McConnell urges GOP: Don't fear protesters

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Story highlights

  • Lawmakers left the Capitol Friday after an intense two months for their regular "recess"
  • Many Republicans have canceled their plans for in-person town halls

Washington (CNN)Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday he's not afraid of protesters, delivering an implicit message to his Republican colleagues, even as the House of Representatives' chief security officer warned representatives to be extra cautious next week.

"Remember the famous Claude Rains line in 'Casablanca'? 'Gambling in Casablanca?' Demonstrations in America? It doesn't bother me," McConnell said Friday. "Everybody's got a right to express themselves. As long as they do it peacefully, I got no problem."
Lawmakers left the Capitol Friday after an intense two months for their regular "recess" -- typically a staid time for them to meet with supporters in their home states, which are now expected to be hotbeds of protest from angry Democrats and liberals.
Plans by Democratic organizers to show up to Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz's events next week led one conservative supporter of the first-term lawmaker to urge counter-protesters to show up with guns, according to reports.
And many Republicans have canceled their plans for in-person town halls, instead planning conference calls and others opting for tightly-controlled access.
The House of Representatives' chief security officer added to those concerns with a formal letter to lawmakers this week, alerting them to be careful with, among other things, access to their personal phone numbers and home addresses.
"I would like to take this opportunity to remind you of the significance of maintaining an enhanced security awareness in your district. This is important if your district office becomes a potential demonstration site. It is especially critical to note that if your home address and phone number are publicly available, you should remain particularly alert regarding your surroundings," House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving wrote to House lawmakers on Thursday.
The town halls have become spectacles on a scale some say is worse than the rancorous town halls from the summer of 2009, when angry conservatives and tea partiers flooded meetings -- accusing lawmakers of taking their health care and questioning whether former President Barack Obama was a legitimate president.
Video from Rep. Jason Chaffetz's town hall a week ago, complete with shouting matches and loud chants, went viral and set the tone for what many Republicans are expecting next week.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi blasted Republicans in a call Friday with reporters, saying they were so afraid of protesters they cast a "tin ear" to their concerns.
"They have a tin ear to what people are saying to them. They are saying, 'We need this coverage, don't take it away from us,' and that's exactly what they're doing," Pelosi said.