Topics ranged from immigration to voting reform, climate change, and COVID relief
BATTLE GROUND — During a one-hour telephone town hall on Thursday evening, 3rd Congressional District Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Battle Ground) largely avoided controversy, touching on subjects including immigration, transportation, voting reform, and her recent vote against the $2.2 trillion American Rescue Plan which passed earlier this month on a party line vote in Congress.
The sixth-term Republican, who sparked backlash from members of her own party for voting to impeach former President Donald Trump, again defended the decision, saying she felt Trump’s rhetoric helped to incite a Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol building and, more importantly, that the president failed to respond quickly enough to the situation.
“If you’re the commander in chief, and there’s an attack on the Capitol, or really just an attack on U.S. soil, you have a responsibility to do everything you can to protect and defend the United States and the Constitution of the United States,” Herrera Beutler told constituents on the call.
Asked to pick their top priorities for Congress, 35 percent of people on the call split between economic recovery and immigration reform, while 15 percent felt healthcare should be a top priority. Thirteen percent picked environmental protection, with just three percent wanting Congress to focus on further COVID relief efforts.
On that front, Herrera Beutler defended her decision to vote against President Joe Biden’s $2.2 trillion COVID relief package, saying she felt it had been pushed through without an effort to involve Republicans in the debate, and included a “wish list” of Democratic priorities.
“Only nine percent of it was COVID-related,” Herrera Beutler said. “So 91 percent of that bill was money spent on other things, maybe not even bad things, but things not related to COVID.”
Herrera Beutler, a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, says a letter they sent to Biden urging a more targeted relief bill was ignored, but she remains hopeful the new administration will work to implement Republican ideas into future legislation moving forward.
That should start with immigration reform, the congresswoman said, adding that both sides need to, “kind of turn the rhetoric down a little bit and quit demonizing the other side.”
“I don’t think it should be partisan to say that the borders are controlled, that they’re not open,” she added, “they’re not abolished, and we open them based on our rules and our laws.”
Even so, the Republican said she supports a robust Seasonal Worker Program, and didn’t approve of the previous administration’s policies of separating families at the border.
“I don’t want to say ‘you’re a citizen of another country, you have to go back. I’ve had, I think, two, maybe three actual times that I’ve been able to even vote for a solution on the House floor. That just shows you how contentious it is.”
Also contentious has been recent state and federal efforts to pass voter reform legislation in response to concerns over the general election in November, after many states loosened absentee voter laws amidst the pandemic.
Asked why she voted against House Resolution One, which would implement voting reforms on a federal level, the congresswoman said she felt it would weaken the integrity of voter rolls by “limiting very severely the ability of local officials to remove ineligible voters,” and take power for implementing voting laws away from the states.
The resolution would also implement public funding of some federal campaigns in a move Democrats say would help to strengthen the impact of smaller individual donations, reducing the need for candidates to seek funding from large corporations and special interest groups.
But Herrera Beutler said it’s her belief the measure would have the unintended effect of greatly increasing campaign spending, and that finance reform should not come on the backs of American taxpayers.
“My experience has been that if you can’t get people who believe in you and share your ideas and your goals to invest in you,” said Herrera Beutler, “then I don’t think it should be legal to make the taxpayer do it, whether they like you or not.”
On climate change, Herrera Beutler said she would like to focus on better forest management to prevent a repeat of this past year, which saw a record number of acres burned by wildfires, undoing air quality gains from fewer people driving during the pandemic.
“They basically put out worse emissions that are more toxic than just the CO2 emission (of vehicles),” she said.
Closer to home, Herrera Beutler was asked what her role has been in making sure the eventual Interstate Bridge replacement on I-5 meets the needs of commuters in Southwest Washington.
The congresswoman said she has been in frequent contact with project managers, as well as lawmakers on both sides of the Columbia River, especially pushing against congestion pricing measures as a means of paying for the new bridge.
“I’ve made it known to both governors of our states, and to anybody that will listen, quite frankly, that a commuter tax at the state line on Southwest Washington residents is a no go for us,” said Herrera Beutler. “It is unjust to pick our pockets on what is a federal highway system.”
As a federal representative, Herrera Beutler said she would fight to secure funding for the new bridge, but that “I’m not going to fight for a bridge project that people here don’t want.”
Among elements she feels people don’t want are the inclusion of Light Rail, which was soundly rejected in advisory votes by Clark County voters twice, as well as any new bridge that doesn’t add traffic capacity.
On the local economy, Herrera Beutler said she has strongly opposed new taxes in Washington state, recently writing a letter to Washington Governor Jay Inslee, urging him to reject new or increased taxes as part of any revenue package this year.
The state is due to receive approximately $7.1 billion from the newly passed American Rescue Plan, in addition to the nearly $3 billion received as part of the CARES Act relief package last year.
A recent analysis of state revenue also showed a $3.2 billion increase over previous estimates in a sign that the state’s economy is rebounding more quickly than anticipated.
“I think our local economies and our families are struggling right now economically,” said Herrera Beutler, “but Washington state’s coffers are not.”
To date, the congresswoman said she has not received assurances from Olympia that tax increases won’t be considered. A capital gains tax was recently part of a democrat-led budget proposal, which Republicans have called a gateway to income taxes in Washington.
“I just cannot say strongly enough that having an agenda to raise taxes really sharply conflicts with the reality that small businesses and families have been losing money hand over fist,” said Herrera Beutler, “and have been having a hard time making ends meet.”
The congresswoman also recently helped move bipartisan legislation through Congress, which President Biden was expected to sign on Friday, which would extend the deadline for businesses to apply for Payroll Protection Program loans through the end of May. It was originally set to expire at the end of this month.