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‘He was a gentleman’: A congresswoman’s call with the president

Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler discusses agenda as shadow of opposition to President Donald Trump as a candidate looms over November election

Eric Schwartz
ClarkCountyToday.com

VANCOUVER — Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler did not vote for President Donald Trump.

That reality, which has been a point of criticism for some of her fellow Republicans, was very much in her mind last year as she held strong to her decision not to join a GOP attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler talks with a ClarkCountyToday.com reporter in late May following her annual jobs fair. Photo By Mike Schultz
Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler talks with a ClarkCountyToday.com reporter in late May following her annual jobs fair. Photo By Mike Schultz

She didn’t support Trump in the election. She didn’t support the effort by her congressional peers to deliver what amounted to a political victory for the president .

Then she got a presidential phone call on the day of the vote. He, of course, wanted her support.

Was he angry? Did he display the unique qualities that define him as one of the most unpredictable presidents in the history of the United States?

Not exactly, Herrera Beutler said in an interview with ClarkCountyToday.com after her late May jobs fair in Vancouver.

Trump, she said, was downright genial.

“He was a gentleman,” she said. “It was a fine conversation. I was ready for him to freak out on me just because I think I’d had several chairs broken over my back in the weeks leading up to that vote… I was ready for him to unload on me, and he was quite the opposite.”

In true Trump form, Herrera Beutler said the president was aware of the election results in the 3rd Congressional District, where about 51 percent of voters chose the New York businessman and Republican presidential nominee over his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“I said, ‘You know what Mr. President? You won in my district,’” Herrera Beutler said. “And he said, Oh yeah, yeah I’ve got the numbers right here, 51 percent.’ I smiled because in my head I was like, ‘Well, I won with 63 percent.’ But I didn’t say that. I was talking to the leader of the free world. I wasn’t going to be insulting. I just said, ‘You’re right. You did. And that’s remarkable.”

The congresswoman said she told the president he had found success in many areas that have long been painted blue on the electoral map.

“You won in counties, like, Democrat enclaves, that I have worked my tail off to earn support from these people,” Herrera Beutler recalled telling the president. “Because as a Republican, they just don’t vote for you, right. They’re good people but they vote Democrat. It’s just part of their ethos.”

The congresswoman said she was reminded how he had secured the votes of independent and even democrat voters by being something different from the status quo.

“Mr. President you won their vote,” she recalled saying. “And he was like, ‘Yep, sure did.’ And I said, ‘You know why you won their vote? Because you promised them. You said, ‘I am going to look out for you and you’re going to be better off. And they believed you. And I am going to help you keep your promise.’ And he goes, ‘OK,’ and I said, ‘That’s one of the reasons I can’t vote for this bill.”

Herrera Beutler called it a “crummy bill.”

Beyond that, she said it was a missed opportunity at bringing real changes to a truly broken health care system.

“It was just done wrong,” Herrera Beutler said. “It was stupid. We blew a big opportunity. We can’t leave it. We’re going to have to fix it.”

Now, as ballots for the Aug. 7 primary election arrive in the mailboxes of voters throughout Southwest Washington, Herrera Beutler faces a number of challengers from both sides of the political aisle. Among them are Democrats Carolyn Long, Dorothy Gasque, Martin Hash and David McDevitt. She’s faced sharp criticism from Republicans though. Her Republican opponents are Michael Cortney and Earl Bowerman, the latter whom has zoned in on Herrera Beutler’s perceived failure to support the president.

In addition to her vote on health care, Herrera Beutler still faces the shadow of the 2016 election when she chose not to cast her ballot in favor of the Republican nominee and instead voted for House Speaker Paul Ryan, her vote representing a statement against some of the thunder that followed Trump’s remarkable journey to becoming president, most notably the leaked ‘Entertainment Tonight’ audio recording in which the then-nominee spoke about women.

‘Not my vote as congresswoman’

Herrera Beutler acknowledges that she didn’t win many friends within her party when she chose not to cast her own vote for Trump when it came to the general election in November 2016. Some of her loudest critics have indeed come from the Republican party.

That reality sparks memories of an election when opponent after opponent fell as Trump motored on to the presidency.

As of her interview with ClarkCountyToday.com in May, Herrera Beutler said she doubted her decision would have an impact on her pursuit of a new congressional term.

She said she’s still not sure if she’ll vote for him when it comes to the 2020 presidential election.

“We’ll see. I hope so,” she said. “But that isn’t my vote as a congresswoman, right. If I get thrown out of office, that’s my vote. And I don’t cede that to anyone at anytime. And I knew good people on both sides of that.”

Herrera Beutler said “really good people” weighed the same decision and fell on both sides. What matters now, she said, is that he is the president of the United States and is as such deserving of support.

She said she gets far more criticism from scorned Democrats who question why she hasn’t created or joined any of the attempts to impeach Trump.

“Nine to one it’s liberal democrats furious that I am not spending most of my time trying to impeach him,” she said, later adding, “I feel like it would be a great documentary.”

Her answer to those constituents is to harken back to the days of the Barack Obama presidency, she said. When “their guy won” there was no such venomous response even as Republicans gathered in groups such as the Tea Party and vehemently opposed the government’s invasion of private sector institutions.

“I was heart sick for our country,” she said.

As she noted at her annual Vancouver Jobs Fair in May, the economy is thriving and the unemployment rate is reaching record lows as Republicans continue to exert control over Congress. She supported the president’s tax cut plan and noted that fewer people are looking for work and more of her constituents are instead simply seeking out better, higher-paying jobs.

“For him to do well means we as a country does well,” Herrera Beutler said.

Likewise, she noted that a reduction in regulations has allowed businesses to flourish by diminishing the number of loopholes and fees required to stay open and growing.

She said Obama was focused on government handouts such as the cash-for-clunkers program that did little more than give more power to the federal government.

That’s why the tax cuts bill passed by Republicans represents proof that the party is more effective at managing the government than Democrats.

“It’s goal isn’t just to be punitive when it comes to the free market, right, it wants to enhance it,” she said. “And (Trump will) sign things. The tax cuts bill would not have gone anywhere if not for the cooperation of the two branches.”

The deal on tolling

When it comes to tolling, Herrera Beutler in May referred to the matter as a real “pickle” for her constituents in Southwest Washington who already face traffic delays and other costs when it comes to traveling to and from Oregon.

“Because Oregon is moving ahead, right, and really the main thing that could make a difference with Oregon right now is the political relationships between our governor and our senators. I mean, I feel like i am fighting this, and it is a bit of a Goliath, and I look around and, I’m like, it’s total crickets from our delegation.”

Stressing that she in no way means to harm her relationships with Democrats Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, she told ClarkCountyToday.com that as of late May she had received no response following her request for assistance as Oregon seeks to potentially enact tolls on bridges over the Columbia River.

The lack of support from her congressional counterparts comes as Oregon lawmakers move in unison to drum up new revenue for their own state, at the expense of Southwest Washington motorists.

“It’s not just Democrats over there, it’s Republicans too,” Herrera Beutler said. “They’re all lockstep saying, ‘Hey, here’s a good way to plug our revenue needs. We’ll just tax people who can’t vote us out of office.’ It’s such an obvious sham. It is so, so obvious.”

Herrera Beutler lamented the fact that an amendment she had attached to an omnibus bill in the House placing a one-year moratorium on the tolls was stripped from the bill after it passed the chamber.

“Basically I was led to believe that our senators weren’t going to stick up for it,” Herrera Beutler said of Cantwell and Murray and a conversation she had with the lead writers of the bill. “There was no way they could fight for it if our senators from our state weren’t going to. And lo and behold it disappeared. So that was my biggest stick right there. It was just a flat moratorium, and because there was no support in the senate, I don’t have it, like, it fell out.”

Herrera Beutler said she isn’t giving up.

She said in late May that she was combing through Department of Transportation regulations to see if a moratorium or additional action can be taken administratively at the federal level.

The federal government essentially allows the states to make such decisions, she said.

She said, as far as the federal government is concerned, Oregon must simply follow regulations and “check off their boxes” with Republican and Democratic support.

“If the senators won’t step up to bat, I’ll lose it,” she said of her plans to stop or slow tolling on the two corridors crossing the Columbia River.

Herrera Beutler said there have been several attempts to reach Cantwell and Murray.

“I’ve worked with both of them on different issues before,” she said. “So this isn’t personal. This has nothing to do with that. There has been different legislation we’ve worked on and accomplished … Which is why I am baffled that I can’t even get a meeting to get a face to face to ask, ‘Why won’t you support this.’ I have no answer.”

Her frustration isn’t only aimed at the state’s congressional delegation.

She said she’s also perplexed by a lack of action from Gov. Jay Inslee. She said she recalled Inslee saying he had a close relationship with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown last fall, noting that on the West Coast there would be a “blue wall.”

“Then in my mind all he has to do is use that relationship to say, ‘Hey, this far and no more. Like, I am going to exercise my responsibility as a representative to this region to say, ‘You guys have to come up with something more fair,’” Herrera Beutler said.

She said Inslee could in theory demand that Oregon use the money collected by tolls to widen, improve or otherwise provide additional access for travelers over the Columbia River in exchange for cooperation.

“Crickets,” Herrera Beutler said. “They’re doing nothing.”

As a state lawmaker, Herrera Beutler said she believed the Columbia River Crossing joint freeway mega project could be done without light rail, even though the Obama administration was demanding it.

She said she thinks residents should continue to reach out to their representatives to oppose any tolling plan that is unfair to motorists in Southwest Washington.

She said she’s not done fighting.

“It’s kind of like, you fight to the end, is how i feel about this,” she said. “And that’s what we’re going to do.”

Focus now

Separate from her ongoing campaign, Herrera Beutler is pushing a number of initiatives forward in congress. Her bill seeking a repeal of the 1834 prohibition of distilleries on tribal lands received a hearing in front of the U.S. House Natural Resources’ Indian Affairs Subcommittee in April and appears to have broad support.
“The prohibition was enacted at a time when the federal government took a more paternalistic stance with the Indian tribes,” she said at the time. “And while many of the provisions in the larger statute have since been repealed, somehow the distillery prohibition remains.”
The impetus for her proposed legislation is a project by the Chehalis Tribe at the northern end of the 3rd Congressional District where tribal leaders are pursuing an economic development that would include a distillery, brewery, restaurant and educational training facility on reservation land.
Herrera Beutler said the tribe was notified of the 1834 law by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which suggested the project be moved off tribal land or that the tribe pursue a legislative remedy.
She said she simply wants to help place the nation’s tribes on equal footing with non-tribal citizens who are not shackled by a 184-year-old law.

Meanwhile, in late June, Congress passed a pill pushed by Herrera Beutler that seeks to improve the survival of endangered salmon and steelhead by selectively killing and removing some sea lions from the Columbia River.

She said she remains focused on legislation to improve maternal care for mothers in the United States. She is among the lawmakers leading the charge in hopes of passing the Ending Maternal Mortality Act, legislation that would create a national plan to halve rates of maternal mortality and morbidity over the next decade and eliminate preventable deaths entirely within 20 years.
According to Herrera Beutler’s office, between 700 and 900 American women die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes each year, and more than 50,000 nearly die. The United States ranks 47th for maternal mortality rate globally, and is one of only eight countries in which the maternal mortality rate is rising. According to Herrera Beutler, the CDC estimates 60 percent of maternal deaths are preventable.

She said the issue is growing worse every year and that her goal is to move the legislation to the top of the congressional agenda at some point.

“This our opportunity to prevent a crisis,” she said. “And I think it’s happening in different areas for different reasons. It’s more than a statement, though it is that. (It’s) establishing maternal mortality review committees in each state. They will investigate every death so the question of ‘why’ is not unanswerable. We’re not going to standardize it. It’s putting in place investigators with a modest investment.”

Election approaching

With the election approaching, though, the congresswoman is sure to face questions on her support, or lack thereof, for President Trump.

Herrera Beutler said she is comfortable with all the criticism she has received, from the right and from the left. It’s not much different that her early days in Congress, she said, when the Republican party was aghast at the plans of Obama and the Democrats in Congress.

She’s quick to note that her opposition to repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act had nothing to do with Donald Trump

“That had to do with, I had promised since I got here that we are going to repeal and replace Obamacare and we’re going to replace it with something that is free-market based that is going to do what we promised,” she said.

That plan, she said, must include lower health care costs, empowered consumers and a safety net.

“The bill we put together was just terrible,” she said.

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