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Health care, environment, budget concerns bring 300 to Bonamici town hall in Hillsboro

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Call volume from Bonamici's constituents higher last week than any other time of her five years in Congress

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Constituents packed the Washington County Fair Complex in Hillsboro Monday for U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici's town hall. U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici says she will continue to forge relationships with majority Republicans even as she opposes specific policies advocated by them and President Donald Trump.

The Democrat from Beaverton spoke Monday, March 13, at a town hall meeting attended by more than 300 at the Washington County Fair Complex in Hillsboro.

"My constituents did not elect me to get things done only when I am in the majority," she said.

"I have spent my time there (in Congress) with a commitment to find common ground. I've done that by building relationships across the aisle. I know nothing is going to get done unless it's bipartisan."

Before she won the 1st District seat in a special election five years ago, Bonamici was a state representative and senator when Democrats were in the majority.

During the 90-minute meeting with a largely supportive crowd, Bonamici also forcefully disagreed with a range of policies put forth by Republicans and Trump.

Among them: The House Republican plan to replace President Barack Obama's signature health-care law; Trump's proposed wall between the United States and Mexico; and his recent executive orders to temporarily bar refugees and residents from six Muslim-majority nations from entering the U.S.

Bonamici spoke the same day the Congressional Budget Office projected that 24 million Americans are likely to go without health coverage under the House Republican plan. She said the legislation is unlikely to pass both houses as it is written now, mostly because of doubts among some Republican senators.

"Am I going to fight back? Absolutely," she said.

"When there are policies that I disagree with and there are threats to public education, to the rights of immigrants, to the rights of women to make their own reproductive decisions, you bet I will be there on those fights.

"But that does not mean I have to disrespect personally my colleagues on the other side of the aisle."

Bonamici called the wall "a colossal waste of money" and said colleagues whose districts sit on the border with Mexico agree with her and that a wall does nothing about the number of people who overstay their U.S. visas.

As far as the ban on refugees is concerned, she added, "It is not American to turn our backs on them."

A flood of calls

As she opened the meeting — this is her first round of town hall meetings since Trump took office Jan. 20 — Bonamici said the volume of calls her office received in the past week exceeded those at any time in her five years in Congress.

In addition to health care, she said, among other topics are Trump's pending federal budget, and the fate of the Environmental Protection Agency whose new administrator, Scott Pruitt, brought multiple lawsuits against its antipollution rules when he was Oklahoma's attorney general.

Bonamici sits on two committees — Education and the Workforce, and Science, Space and Technology — that do not have a direct role in issues such as the budget, health care and immigration. She is the top Democrat on the environment subcommittee of the science panel.

Darla Truitt of Aloha said she was happy Bonamici spoke out against the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which loosened restrictions on corporate spending in political campaigns. Bonamici said corporations are not people and money is not speech.

"She will do what she can," Truitt said afterward. "But she is not in a position to influence some of these issues."

Bonamici did speak out against members of the Science Committee, including its chairman, who are skeptics about how human activity contributes to climate change.

"What can we do to support you in having the Science Committee not take science advice from Breitbart?" one questioner asked, referring to the website formerly run by Steve Bannon, now Trump's chief strategist in the White House.

"We have tried again and again to bring great experts and real scientists" to speak to the committee, Bonamici said. "One of the problems is not only denying science, but trying to micromanage it and micromanage research," she said.

Signs of change?

Bonamici said she sees signs that Republican colleagues are beginning to have questions about Trump, and a few beyond Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are beginning to voice their concerns.

But she also said many of them face the potential of primary challengers in the next election if they are too vocal against a president of their own party — so their doubts are mostly private.

"We are starting to see more colleagues step up and push back," she said. "But it hasn't come quickly enough and it is a gradual process."

Bonamici also plans town hall meetings April 17 at Sherwood High School and May 7 at Lincoln High School in Portland. Her district includes Portland west of the Willamette River.

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