Liberals are demanding CNN give equal airtime to Paul Ryan's 2018 opponent during the House speaker's network town hall.
On Monday, Ryan will appear at a town hall hosted by CNN host Jake Tapper in his native Racine, Wis. Ryan, who was the 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate and has served as speaker of the House since 2015, is expected to address constituent questions on "federal budget, tax reform, infrastructure, and President Donald Trump," according to a CNN release.
The event has rankled liberal activist groups. The Working Families Party, Democracy for America and NARAL Pro-Choice America are circulating a petition demanding that the network offer an equal platform to Ryan's opponent in 2018, iron worker union official Randy Bryce.
"We think Paul Ryan shouldn’t get a huge national stage all to himself in the heat of a critical campaign. So we’re calling on CNN to turn this one-sided event into a real debate by letting Randy take the stage," the petition says.
Marina Dimitrijevic, director of the Wisconsin Working Families Party, said that Ryan, who was first elected in 1998, faces "the race of his life" from Bryce, who is "building up enormous momentum in the district." She said the CNN interview gives Ryan an unfair advantage.
"I don’t think it’s fair for CNN to give Ryan all that free airtime, just for him," she said in a statement. "Voters in Wisconsin’s first district have a tremendously important choice between two very different candidates, and the CNN should let voters hear from both of them."
A CNN representative said bringing Bryce on would change the fundamental nature of the event, adding, "This is not a candidates forum."
CNN has hosted a number of town halls for single politicians, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., VT), Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), as well as Vice President-turned-failed filmmaker Al Gore. The network did not allow for rebuttals to those town halls, nor do there appear to have been any public objections from opponents.
Bryce has appeared on CNN since launching his campaign in June. He declined to answer a network question about the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear capabilities because, "I don't have specifics." Bryce, an army veteran, later offered that he thought Americans "need to be able to defend ourselves."
In the same interview, he also attempted to defend Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I., Vt.) proposed single payer healthcare. He said that the $32 trillion price tag over a 10-year period could be paid for with tax hikes, though he conceded that other cost-saving measures could help lower expenditures.
Bryce has emerged as the likely Democratic nominee in the race after a campaign announcement video in which he dubbed himself "Iron Stache" went viral in July. A veteran Democratic organizer and political director at Iron Workers union Local 8, he raised more than $432,000 as of June 30, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, five times the haul of his next closest opponent. He has also won the support of major Democratic backers. NARAL endorsed Bryce on Aug. 2, praising his "progressive and pro-choice message." The influential pro-abortion group dropped $1.6 million in outside spending and contributed $345,307 to Democratic candidates in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive politics.
CNN will air the town hall at 9 p.m. on Monday.