Wyden fields questions from students, public at Tigard town hall
Speaking at a town hall meeting in Tigard on Friday, Nov. 3, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden criticized a just-unveiled Republican tax reform bill, defended undocumented immigrants, and predicted more developments in the ongoing investigation into ties between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russia.
Wyden, a Democrat who serves as Oregon's senior senator, faced a friendly audience in the Deb Fennell Auditorium at Tigard High School, which included several dozen students along with members of the community. He took questions on a wide range of topics, at one point declaring there was "not a single bad question in the house."
DREAM Act and immigration
One of the most frequent lines of questioning was about immigration and the DREAM Act, proposed legislation that would create a pathway to permanent residency for people brought to the United States without legal documentation as children.
Azucena Javier told Wyden her personal story: She was brought to the United States at age 3, grew up in Tualatin, enrolled in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, graduated this year from Tualatin High School, and now faces the prospect of deportation once her DACA status expires. The Trump administration announced in September it would end the DACA program, which was created under President Barack Obama.
"I am one of the few DACA recipients who qualify for a final DACA renewal," Javier said. "However, many of my DACA friends weren't as lucky, because their permits expire after the deadline of March 5th, 2018."
The audience broke into applause after Javier asked her question about the prospects of passing the DREAM Act without attaching measures Trump wants, such as funding for a border wall facing Mexico and increased immigration enforcement.
"As you can see, you have a lot of support, and I hope you come to feel that you have mine," Wyden told Javier.Wyden said he is working to build a coalition that he hopes will be a "juggernaut" to get the DREAM Act through a Republican-controlled Congress skeptical of what many Republicans deride as "amnesty" for undocumented immigrants. His goal, he added, is to have the legislation passed by the end of the year. (It is unclear whether Trump would veto the DREAM Act if it were to reach his desk.)
"We can win this fight," Wyden said. "It's going to be tough. One of the things I've been doing to get some new allies is I've been telling the employer community, 'We really need you to get off the sidelines.' A lot of the conservatives in Washington, D.C., will care a lot if their employers and their supporters and their friends weigh in with them."
Wyden also asked Javier about her family and whether she fears that her parents, who also came to the United States illegally, may be deported. She responded that she is "very fearful."
"I want you to know I'm going to take this again as a two-step. I want to have help with the 'dreamers' and the DACA young people, but not at the expense of their parents. We have to do both," Wyden declared, to loud applause from the room.
Tax reform and the Russia investigation
Wyden, who is the senior Democratic senator on the Senate Finance Committee, was also asked about a bill unveiled Thursday that would dramatically overhaul the federal tax code, instituting a wide range of cuts but also removing or limiting some existing deductions and credits. He made clear he is no fan of the legislative proposal, which is backed by Trump and his chief congressional ally, House Speaker Paul Ryan.
"You can be very sure that I am going to be doing everything I can to make sure that this Grinch doesn't steal a middle-class Christmas," said Wyden, referring to the Dr. Seuss holiday classic.
While Wyden pointed out that Democrats and a handful of Republican legislators were able to defeat proposed healthcare reforms that would have largely repealed the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as "Obamacare," he warned that it may be more difficult for opponents of the tax reform bill to whip up public interest in the subject.
"This is going to be an extraordinary battle," Wyden predicted.Wyden also talked about the investigation into the Trump campaign being led by Robert Mueller, a former FBI director who was appointed as a special prosecutor for the case earlier this year.
News broke Monday, Oct. 30, that former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty to making false statements to FBI agents and agreed to cooperate with investigators; the same day, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates were indicted on multiple federal charges, including conspiracy, in connection with the probe.
"By the way, I think there are so many more details coming out about Paul Manafort's activities," Wyden said. "He is not going to be able to sweep those details under those really expensive rugs he was buying."
Trump has insisted there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia and has publicly called for an end to the probe, suggesting that his vanquished opponent Hillary Clinton should be investigated instead. The White House has sought to downplay Gates, Manafort and Papadopoulos' roles in the campaign.
Asked what he thinks the chances are that Mueller will be removed as special counsel, Wyden responded that any attempt to fire Mueller without cause would cause a "constitutional crisis." He said he wants to see the investigation continue to its natural conclusion rather than cutting it short, as a small group of House Republicans proposed this week.
Three congressional committees are also investigating Russian interference with last year's election. This week, officials from tech giants Facebook, Google and Twitter appeared before a Senate panel to answer questions about Russian agents' use of their digital media platforms to mount an influence campaign, which appears to have heavily tilted toward criticism of and disinformation about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
"My job, it seems to me, particularly on this investigation, is to ask the tough questions … ones that make people uncomfortable," Wyden said.
He concluded, "Sometimes, it takes some time. But fortunately, in America, the facts always come out. And that's why we're going to stay at it."
Wyden answered questions for about an hour and a half and met individually with a handful of attendees after the event, including Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read, a former Democratic state legislator from Beaverton. According to his office, he will hold three more town halls this weekend, including one on Sunday, Nov. 5, at Pacific University in Forest Grove, starting at 2:30 p.m. in Washburne Hall.
Wyden was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1980, later winning a 1996 special election to fill out the remaining months of disgraced Sen. Bob Packwood's term after Packwood resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct. He has served in the Senate ever since.