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Iowa Republican Rod Blum Faces Tough Balancing Act In Swing District

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

With Congress in recess, many lawmakers are at home getting an earful from their constituents, mainly about President Trump. One member with a difficult balancing act is Iowa Republican Rod Blum. He's part of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and he represents a swing district. As Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters reports, Blum is trying to keep a controlled profile.

CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: About 20 people stand near a pizza restaurant in Cedar Rapids. They're holding signs that say things like, where's my congressman and, meet with your constituents. Inside the restaurant, Congressman Rod Blum meets privately with a group of gun owners who've invited him to speak with them. Isaac Murtha is one of the protesters standing outside.

ISAAC MURTHA: He's a far-right extremist. He's a member of the Freedom Caucus in a district that is pretty purple, which makes absolutely no sense to me.

MASTERS: There's a tradition in Iowa for politicians to be easily accessible to the public. Most of the state's congressional delegation have held town halls this year. Ben Hanson worked pretty hard to get into this meeting. He's a veteran and gun owner.

BEN HANSON: He said he will never vote along partisan lines. He will never vote strictly for the Freedom Caucus. He will always vote what's good for the people of his district. So my question to him would be, how is he going to know what's good for the people of his district if he won't meet with us and listen to us?

MASTERS: Hanson is referring to a group he organized that meets every Thursday to talk politics at The Blue Strawberry Coffee Company in downtown Cedar Rapids. On this day, there's eight of them sitting around a table underneath a giant American flag. Every week they discuss a different issue and then meet with the congressman's staff. Hanson's wife, Amy Adams, is here today. She's a teacher and leads the local chapter of Indivisible, a liberal activist group that's popped up since President Trump's inauguration.

AMY ADAMS: We want to share the concerns that we're sharing on Thursdays to the congressman.

MASTERS: They say they disagree with their congressman on most of the issues, from climate change to the Affordable Care Act. Even people like John Hernandez who voted for Blum don't feel he's been effective.

JOHN HERNANDEZ: All that's been happening since Trump got in office, it just seems like the working class is being thrown under the bus.

MASTERS: But Blum insists he's not hiding from anyone. The congressman recently met with the staff of an AmeriCorp training facility in the small town of Vinton to learn what the program does.

ROD BLUM: Oh, nice to meet you, Nathan (ph). Yeah, thanks for serving.

TAMRA STARK: Tamara Stark (ph), city council.

BLUM: Tamara?

STARK: Yep.

MASTERS: Blum says he listens to his constituents regularly. For example, he opposed the Republican replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act because he says it was rushed and didn't bring premiums down for everyone. He says representing a swing district keeps him on his toes.

BLUM: In this district, if you want to be an effective legislator and represent all the people, I've got to listen to all of the sides. And I always try to do at the end of the day what I think is best for the eastern Iowans. Not everyone's going to agree.

MASTERS: Blum says he's aware of the Indivisible movement. The group encourages supporters to ask provocative questions to Republican members of Congress at town halls. Blum is not impressed.

BLUM: It says, you know, to show up and get in your member of Congress's face. Make sure it's being videotaped. Make sure the media gets you yelling at him. Yeah, I get all that.

MASTERS: Blum has four town hall meetings scheduled next month.

BLUM: They're going to be big. They're going be beautiful. They're going to be full of love. It's going to be great. I'm looking forward to it. It's fun.

MASTERS: Republicans are actually outnumbered in this district even as they've managed to win it twice. And Blum says he knows how people feel here even if they don't agree with him. For NPR News, I'm Clay Masters in Des Moines.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOGO PENGUIN SONG, "KAMALOKA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.