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Group Therapy and Chastened Lawmakers at Raucous Town Halls

Mr. Heller plainly does not relish the town-hall format: He told a conservative group last week that the events were “one of those boxes you gotta check,” according to audio obtained by The Nevada Independent. And at a gathering on Monday in Reno, Mr. Heller’s genial sidestepping was greeted at times with chants of “Answer the question!”

On some contentious issues, like federal funding for Planned Parenthood, he seemed caught between a desire to placate attendees — in a state Hillary Clinton carried last year — and a need to reconcile his past positions. At one point, he said he would “protect Planned Parenthood,” before hedging. (Facing pressure from the right, his office further clarified his remarks afterward.)

The welcome for Mr. Flake, who was also pressed on Planned Parenthood funding during a town hall in Mesa, Ariz., was not much warmer. “You work for us!” attendees shouted repeatedly.

If Mr. Trump’s approval ratings continue to sag, the two may become even less reticent about bucking the president.

Midterm candidate auditions are underway, at least for one key seat.

Most lawmakers adopt a kind of Hippocratic oath while answering questions in their districts: Do no harm. Boring is good. Commit to nothing you cannot guarantee.

Representative Kevin Cramer, Republican of North Dakota, has a tendency to go another way. Long considered a leading candidate to challenge Senator Heidi Heitkamp — one of several Democrats up for re-election next year in states that Mr. Trump won easily — Mr. Cramer has spent part of the recess reminding voters, and party leaders, that he does not care much for self-filtering.

In a local radio interview, he defended a widely condemned analogy from Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, comparing Hitler and President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. “It’s not without some validity,” Mr. Cramer said.

According to a CNN report last week, Republican officials have begun privately arguing against a run by Mr. Cramer. Mr. Cramer has said that Republicans in Washington do not understand his state. “I do say what’s on my mind,” he said in an interview, adding that no one at any level of Republican leadership had expressed any concerns to him.

He noted that he interacted with voters far more often than many colleagues do. “I expose myself a lot,” he said. “That’s the best way I can put it.”

Democrats are still mad, and it’s not just about health care.

Though the last recess included no shortage of outrage over the president’s Twitter posts, his team’s ties to Russia and other assorted controversies, one topic dominated: health care.

Several weeks later, after the Republican health care bill’s failure in the House, the national focus has become more diffuse. Health care remains top of mind, and supporters of Planned Parenthood made their presence known at several events. But other issues,…

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