Audience controlled by having questions submitted in writing, screened first; DeSaulnier Town Hall in Lafayette Wednesday night
By John Crowder
Just over one hundred people turned out last Saturday, April 8, for a joint Town Hall meeting held at the Nick Rodriguez Community Center in downtown Antioch by Congressmen Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) and Jerry McNerney (CA-09). Braving the rain to hear their Congressional representatives were residents, community activists, and even children from a Pittsburg church who were brought by their choir director to learn something of representative government. Attendees included residents from Antioch, Brentwood, Pittsburg, and as far as Berkeley.
The meeting opened just after 10:00 a.m. with the singing of the National Anthem by Antioch resident Velma Wilson. Following her stirring rendition, District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis introduced the Congressmen.
Each Congressman provided a brief update on current issues before they took turns answering questions from the audience. Congressman McNerney began his remarks with a discussion of health care. He said that, while the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was not perfect, and needed improvement, it provided needed health coverage to many Americans and should not be repealed and replaced with nothing, or something that would make it worse. He went on to say that he likes the idea of a single-payer system.
McNerney then addressed the water situation, saying we need a long-term, rational, water policy to help get through times of drought. He said he would be introducing legislation for water recycling, and stressed the importance of capturing and saving storm water and eliminating leaks in the system. He advocated for what he called a more progressive water policy for regional self-sufficiency.
With respect to Syria, McNerney said that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable. He added, however, that the President should comply with the War Powers Act when taking military action.
Finally, McNerney said, “We can’t allow the President to do whatever he wants,” such as scale back the EPA and other important programs. “We have three branches of government,” he noted.
DeSaulnier began his remarks by saying that, “Sometimes we don’t want to mention names, including the current President of the United States.” This statement brought a round of laughter from a large segment of those who had turned out, and DeSaulnier for the remainder of the meeting never referred to President Trump by name.
DeSaulnier then addressed health care. He decried the health care bill, “that Paul Ryan came up with.” He said that the Republicans had seven years to come up with something, and the result would have eliminated health coverage for millions of Americans, caused many to lose behavioral health care, would have caused the loss of millions of jobs, and would have shifted the cost of health care back to the states. He said he would prefer to see single payer, universal health care, and said that health care should be a right.
“The President’s budget is equally disgusting,” he continued. He decried the elimination of programs such as Meals on Wheels while increasing military spending.
DeSaulnier also said that, with billions of dollars spent on the last election, the system is rigged against the average American. He said it was important that the President reveal his past tax returns, and that it was time to elect the president by popular vote.
Following their opening remarks, one of Congressman McNerney’s staff members read questions from cards that had been submitted by audience members. The first question came from Antioch resident Harry Thurston, who asked whether President Trump’s bombing of Syria without seeking Congressional approval was an impeachable act, and what they were going to do about it.
McNerney responded that he would demand that the President follow the War Powers Act.
DeSaulnier stated that, “Impeachment comes up a lot.” He discussed the history of impeachment, and talked about building a case for it, both legally and politically. He said this was one of the reasons that it was important to obtain the President’s tax returns.
McNerney noted that his caucus brings up Russian involvement in the election and the President’s tax returns regularly, and in part to “get the American people used to the idea that this [impeachment] is going to happen.”
The next question, submitted by another Antioch resident, asked about the likelihood of a Russia probe. Both Congressmen expressed concern about the House of Representatives, with McNerney stating that he didn’t believe that leaders in the House understood the concept of Separation of Powers.
“I think it needs to go to a Special Prosecutor,” McNerney said.
A representative of the People Power Group asked about keeping local police from working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Both Congressmen noted the move toward sanctuary status of many jurisdictions in California. DeSaulnier added, “We need to fix immigration, we don’t need to build a wall.” He expressed that it was important that police departments build relationships with immigrants, and stated that the idea that the United States was going to deport 11 million people was not possible.
A Pittsburg resident asked about infrastructure. DeSaulnier said there was some good news in that California had just passed legislation addressing this issue. He also noted that passing legislation on infrastructure was usually bipartisan. McNerney emphasized the need to immediately begin, “investing in our country.”
A questioner stating she was, “disgusted but not surprised” about “the Republicans invoking the nuclear option” [a procedural rule change in the Senate that allowed for the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court on a simple majority] led to a discussion by the Congressmen about the need for election reform.
A question from a professor at U.C. Berkeley, expressing horror at cuts being proposed to the National Institute of Health (NIH) and other agencies, led McNerney, himself a scientist, to discuss the importance of scientists speaking up on public matters, and to become more active in the political process.
The final question came from a young girl in the audience, Zenzi Osekua Asiedu, who was attending the meeting with a group from Pittsburg United Methodist Church to learn more about citizenship. She asked the Congressmen if their job was hard. Both men emphasized the rewards inherent in serving their fellow citizens by working to pass legislation that helps people.
The town hall ended with the two Congressmen noting the important challenges facing our nation, and a request by them that those attending stay engaged. “We have it within our power to take our country back,” said DeSaulnier.
DeSaulnier will hold another Town Hall meeting in Lafayette, tonight, Wednesday, April 12th from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Stanley Middle School, Multipurpose Room, 3455 School Street.