After voting in support of making the Mueller investigation report public on Thursday, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) returned to Oregon for a town hall meeting in The Dalles March 15, where his vote was met with applause.
“What was I supposed to do? I’ve always been about transparency and accountability in government, and I think Americans have a right to know what that report shows,” he said.
The resolution passed unanimously in the House, and will now move to the Senate.
Constituents also applauded his decision to break from his party in voting to re-open the government earlier in the year, and more recently when he voted against the president’s declaration of a national emergency on the border with Mexico.
“While I support taking care of the southern border and making sure we have security on the border, and have always voted that way, I didn’t think it made sense to shut down the Forest Service and the BLM and those sorts of operations in the process,” he said.
The congressman was one of only 12 Republicans to vote against the president’s declaration of a national emergency on the border, saying it was a violation of the law’s intent and a threat to the constitutional separation of powers.
“I opposed President Obama when I thought he overreached,” Walden said. “In fact, Congress sued and we won when he spent money that was unauthorized.”
He said he didn’t like it when President George W. Bush included “signing statements” on bills that made specific exceptions to the bill, which he also saw as presidential overreach.
“I’m a strong believer in the Constitution, and sometimes it’s a lonely battle defending it, especially when it’s your own party in power,” he said. “But the Constitution is worth defending every day, and the separation of powers, which is the issue here, is important. It’s something I believe in and took an oath of office to uphold.”
Walden added that while technically the President may be right, such a declaration was not the intent of the law. “I have never seen a situation where the president is negotiating with Congress on spending, and when he didn’t get what he wanted declared a national emergency to spend money from other accounts,” he said.
“I think it’s a bad path to go on.”
“I know I have friends from my side that are unhappy with that vote, I’ve heard that, but defending the Constitution and the separation of powers is essential to the future of our democracy. I don’t want our next president to do that, or the one after that,” he said.
Over 120 people attended the town hall, where they heard a report from the legislator regarding his work in Congress, had an opportunity to ask questions of the representative, and were invited to meet privately with a team of staff members to seek individual assistance with federal agencies.
The town hall began with a presentation of colors by The Dalles Boy Scout Troop 398. It was the seventh Walden has held in Wasco County since 2012. Walden reported that in the past year his office has responded to 1,749 messages from the county.
He added that his office receives on average 183 messages per day, seven days a week. “That’s a lot of volume to work through, but keep that up,” he said.
Walden invited anyone attending who had problems with federal agencies or casework that they didn’t want to address in the public forum to meet individually with his staff in a nearby room.
“We’ve helped about 580 Wasco County residents over the years with issues related to the Veterans Administration, Medicare and other federal agencies,” he said. In a recent example, a veteran with Agent Orange exposure was helped, and is now receiving 100 percent disability benefits, he said.
Walden then addressed a number of topics in regard to regional issues:
• BPA Privatization. Regional legislators will continue their bipartisan stand against privatizing the Bonneville Power Administration, Walden said. “Every administration wants to privatize the BPA, and you’ll see all of us arm-in-arm in opposition,” he said.
• The Columbia River Treaty with Canada is currently in negotiation, he said, including formulas for payments to Canada.
• Broadband. Legislation written by Walden to expand broadband in rural areas passed in 2012 is now building out, he said. “Our rural areas are getting connected, and we are continuing to work to get fiber optic cables to our rural communities.”
• Wildfire. “We’ve passed some good changes, including a ‘good neighbor’ policy that allows states and communities to be more active in fuel reduction and management,” Walden said. “Starting next year we will see the end of fire borrowing,” Walden added. The change in borrowing will allow preemptive work like thinning and controlled burning to be properly funded, reducing forest fire damage in the long term.
• Opioid crisis—Walden said that 57 pieces of legislation were passed in the last year to address the opioid epidemic, which claimed 72,000 American lives in the past year.
“It’s just outrageous, what’s going on,” he said. “These stories are simply horrific.”
Citizens were then given an opportunity to speak, selected by random in a lottery drawing. That portion of the town hall will be covered in The Chronicle’s weekend edition.
U.S. Representative Greg Walden can be contacted via mail at 1282 Rayburn, House Office Building, Washington D.C. 20515; by phone at 202-225-6730; and online at www.walden.house.gov.