Responding to constituent questions, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden spoke about the possibility of socialized healthcare in Oregon, requiring undocumented immigrants to learn English, President Donald Trump and much more for about 90 minutes Tuesday in a stuffy Cornelius gymnasium.
It was his 839th town hall and the 58th this year. He'll visit Columbia, Washington, Marion, Jefferson and Clackamas counties by the end of this week, including a town hall on Aug. 9 at Hazelbrook Middle School in Tigard.
Interest in Wyden's stance on immigration comes as Oregon cities and counties are taking more heat from the U.S. Department of Justice over state law barring the use of local resources by federal immigration officials. Hillsboro, which has a large percentage of residents who claim Latino origin, voted to become a sanctuary city earlier this year (see story on page A2).
Wyden praised efforts to give leeway to children of undocumented immigrants and immigrants who arrived illegally in the United States before they turned 16.
But full immigration reform is needed, he said.
"I voted for it along the lines of what I've been talking about during (Town Hall Meetings) — strengthening what we do at the borders, enforcing the laws on the books, and for the undocumented, saying if you come forward, pay a fine, show you haven't broken any laws, show you've mastered English, you get to go to the end of the citizenship line," Wyden said.
Wyden said he's discussed restrictions on how undocumented immigrants can be detained by immigration officials as a way to reduce fear among immigrants. He referenced a story of a family apprehensive about a trip to pick up prescription medication because of fear they might be apprehended.
When asked why undocumented immigrants need to show proficiency in English, Wyden took the prescription medication example and extrapolated on it.
"Because, again, if you can't read a pill bottle and you've got to take care of your kid, your kid could get really sick and maybe even die," Wyden said. "Now, I certainly want to make sure we give credit to all the great (English literacy) programs that are going on, but I think it's really important that people can read a pill bottle."
Healthcare and housing
Wyden laid out his priorities on fixing the Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as Obamacare), which he said wasn't a perfect system. His first goal would be to stabilize the insurance market, which he said was especially important to those who don't get insurance through an employer or a government program.
Wyden also took aim at large pharmaceutical companies and accused them of artificially jacking up rates for prescription medication, and discussed legislation requiring companies to justify such rate increases.
When an audience member asked Wyden for his stance on a single-payer system, the senator discussing the merits of a government-run health insurance system and the challenges of converting the current market to socialized healthcare.
The Affordable Care Act has a provision allowing states to choose a single-payer system, Wyden said.
Rep. Susan McLain, a Hillsboro Democrat, asked Wyden about resources to help with the local housing crisis. Wyden told the audience he'd been to only a handful of places in Oregon which weren't struggling with a housing crunch.
"We were just in Vernonia for our meeting; same kind of questions," Wyden said. "Federal housing policy needs an urgent remodel because we've got people all over Oregon, all over America, that cannot afford rent."
Wyden suggested expanding the Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and working to link low-income housing to services such as transit, schools and essential goods, as well as creating more incentives for first-time home buyers.
"All over this state, we have the disgrace of veterans who have served two, three, four tours of duty, and they're on the streets. Sometimes they're sleeping in the woods. That is a moral blot on the state of Oregon," Wyden said.
Wyden took several questions on ethics in the executive branch of the federal government, including one man who asked how Wyden planned to "fix the cancer in Washington." Wyden pointed to a Senate vote to limit President Trump's ability to impose or lift sanctions on other countries, a vote aimed at sanctions against Russia, as evidence there is growing pushback against the administration.
Wyden also weighed in on President Trump's handling of North Korea, voicing hopes new Chief of Staff John Kelly "is going to be able to convince the president you don't make thoughtful, difficult foreign policy by 140 characters at 5 o'clock in the morning with Tweets."