Oregon Democrat rejects efforts to divide party with its new majority in the House; he says 'the goal is to govern.'

PMG PHOTO: PETER WONG - U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., speaks at a town hall meeting Saturday, Feb. 23, at Milwaukie High School.U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader says he will not give up his efforts to find common ground in Congress even as he faces criticism that he is out of step with a Democratic Party that is moving leftward.

Schrader says if Democrats let such divisions occur in their ranks, even while they have gained their first majority in the House in eight years, they soon will find themselves on the outside again — similar to what Republicans are experiencing in the aftermath of the Nov. 6 election.

"The goal is to govern," Schrader said Saturday (Feb. 23) at a town hall meeting attended by about 100 people at Milwaukie High School.

"If we start attacking one another because we have a slightly different spin on the same issue, that's wrong — and that will take us out of the majority."

The Democrat from Canby won his sixth term with a majority of 55 percent in Oregon's 5th District, which extends from Portland to the Mid-Willamette Valley and the central coast. Although CQ Roll Call now rates his seat as safe for Democrats, the district still has the closest split in party registration in Oregon as of November: 33 percent Democratic, 31.8 percent not in any party, and 28.5 percent Republican.

Schrader has taken pride in being independent — he was one of just 15 Democrats to vote for someone other than Nancy Pelosi as House speaker — and in working with the Blue Dog Coalition, New Democrat Coalition and No Labels Problem Solvers Caucus, which has 24 Democrats and 24 Republicans.

He was heckled by some in the audience for not sponsoring such proposals as a single-payer system of health care, under which the government pays most bills, and a resolution calling for a "Green New Deal" to move the nation away from carbon-based fuels in the next decade.

But Schrader said he is not going to engage in political infighting with new members such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who unseated a 10-term Democratic incumbent last year in a New York City district.

"The inference is that because I'm a Blue Dog and a Problem Solver (Caucus member) that I'm going to beat up these people for their beliefs and the way they are encouraging our party to move," he said.

"But I don't bite. I'd like to think ours is a big, diverse national party. The strength of our party, of our country, is in its diversity."

Schrader said he saw how the Freedom Caucus, which consists of the most conservative Republicans, hampered two Republican House speakers (John Boehner and Paul Ryan) during the past eight years. Boehner resigned in 2015 after five years as speaker; Ryan chose to retire in the same Nov. 6 election when Democrats won a majority.

Although Schrader generally votes less often with his party than the three other Oregon Democrats, he said he is in no way a supporter of Republican President Donald Trump, who won 42 percent of the vote — and three counties — in the 5th District in 2016. (Trump lost Clackamas County, most of which is in the 5th.)

Critical of Trump

PMG PHOTO: PETER WONG - U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., center, after a town hall meeting Saturday, Feb. 23, at Milwaukie High School. At left is Roger Martin, a lobbyist and former Republican state representative; to Schrader's right is Suzanne Kunse, his district director.Schrader decried Trump's declaration of a national emergency to muster funds for the border wall with Mexico that Trump wants, but Congress denied him in the Feb. 15 legislation that averted another partial shutdown of federal operations.

"I am passionate about pushing back on this declaration," he said. "It is totally bogus. We had a deal — and now he has gone around that deal. That to me is totally wrong."

House Democrats have introduced a resolution to block it, but its prospects are uncertain in the Senate — which still has a Republican majority — and Trump has vowed to veto it.

Schrader also said it's part of a larger pattern by Trump and his allies to circumvent not only Congress but independent investigations such as the one being conducted by Robert Mueller, special counsel and a former FBI director.

"I am astonished that the American people are cutting so much slack for the president of the United States for what his associates, his campaigns and his administration have done and been taken to court for. That to me is telling in itself," he said.

"But I am going to make sure that in the end, I am going to go with what Mr. Mueller says.

"If it's high crimes and misdemeanors, and Mr. Mueller finds out that is the case — either outright collusion (with Russia) or obstruction of justice — I will be calling for the president's impeachment."

Schrader is a sponsor of HR 8, which would require federal criminal background checks on all firearms transactions. The House passed it Feb. 27 on a 240-190 vote, but the bill faces an uncertain future in a Republican-controlled Senate.

"I was a little worried that it could be amended to infringe on our ability to enjoy the freedoms the Second Amendment gives us," Schrader said, but the bill's chief sponsor assured him it would not be.

In 2017, Schrader was just one of six Democrats in the House to vote for a different bill to require states to honor concealed-weapons permits issued by other states. That bill died in the Senate.

No single-payer yet

Schrader, however, will not sponsor legislation calling for a federal single-payer system for health care. Vermont abandoned its attempt for a state-level system in 2014 — the cost would have been shared with the federal government — and similar legislation in Oregon has failed to advance past the budget committee.

"I like the idea behind it and maybe there is a way to move in that direction," he said. "But I'd like to do it in a responsible manner that people feel Congress isn't being too radical."

Schrader is co-chair of the health care task force of the New Democrat Coalition, and he sits on the health subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

He said there are politically feasible fixes to the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 landmark law signed by President Barack Obama that has withstood Republican attempts to repeal it outright.

Trump administration officials, however, have shortened open enrollment periods for insurance, reduced advertising and public outreach, advocated sale of insurance policies that do not meet coverage requirements, and even sided with a lawsuit by Republican attorneys general to overturn the entire law.

"We cannot afford to wait for a big new program," Schrader said of a single-payer bill. "It's taken us six years to implement the ACA. We've got to get something done now."

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Molalla River

U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader says his decade-long quest to protect parts of the Molalla River will be achieved with House approval of public lands legislation that now goes to President Donald Trump.

The House voted 363-62 on Tuesday, Feb. 26, to clear the bill (S. 47). The Senate approved it two weeks earlier.

Schrader was one of four Oregon members to vote for it in the House; Peter DeFazio was absent.

"There is a balance between landowner rights and public access," Schrader said at a Feb. 23 meeting at Milwaukie High School. "On balance, it's a good piece of legislation from what I can see."

Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley were among the 92 who voted Feb. 12 for the bill, which covers about 2 million acres of public lands nationwide. It was the product of years of negotiations. All eight votes against it were cast by Republicans.

— Peter Wong

NOTE: Updates with House approval of S. 47, which includes protections for Molalla River.

Updates with House approval of HR 8, which requires criminal background checks for almost all firearms transactions.

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