Wyden: Cooperation, challenges must go hand in hand
Oregon Democrat tells Hillsboro audience he will seek common ground but push back against Trump, GOP depending on the issues.
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden says he will continue to cooperate with Republicans, but he will not hesitate to push back against President-elect Donald Trump or GOP congressional majorities on Oregon principles.
"If you are talking about establishing a religious registry, repealing the Affordable Care Act or clean air rules — and I could go through half a dozen other things — I am not talking about coming together," Wyden said Sunday (Jan. 15).
But he also said if Republicans have real ideas about improving health care or increasing transportation funding, he's willing to deal with them.
Wyden made his comment at a 90-minute town hall meeting attended by about 200 people at the Hillsboro Civic Center.
He did so after a woman in the audience said Wyden should resist anything advocated by Republicans and Trump. She also said Wyden should not attend Trump's inauguration Friday (Jan. 20) — at least two Oregon representatives say they are not going — and that no recent president has done much to help "vulnerable people."
Wyden said he is attending "out of respect for the institution of the presidency," but also will take part with his wife Saturday in a march in Washington, D.C., for women's rights.
During an earlier rally in Portland, Wyden said he heard story after story from families who said insurance coverage under President Barack Obama's signature health-care law — which Republicans are moving to repeal — made the difference between life and death for them.
"Republicans are long on repeal, but not too long on a replacement," he said, even as Congress cleared the way last week to use the annual budget resolution to advance their repeal effort.
The Washington County meeting was No. 785 since Wyden won a special election for the Senate 21 years ago, when he pledged such meetings annually in all 36 Oregon counties, and one of five on his current tour. They are the first since Wyden, 67, won a fourth full term Nov. 8 with 1.1 million votes — and Trump lost Oregon to Hillary Clinton.
A similar meeting Saturday night in McMinnville also drew 200 people. (A Clackamas County meeting will be rescheduled.)
"Interest is obviously off the charts," Wyden said afterward in a brief interview.
"It's an indication there is enormous concern, but also interest in weighing in on issues. I am telling you that Oregonians have a lot to say about what is going on."
He and Sen. Jeff Merkley are part of a 48-member minority — two independents meet with the 46 Democrats — but other than the annual budget resolution and appointments, it takes 60 votes to move legislation through the Senate.
Wyden told his Hillsboro audience he isn't going along to get along.
"A lot of the things the president-elect is talking about are way out of sync with the Oregon way," he said.
"If he actually does it after he is sworn in, I'm going to be pushing back as hard as I can. If he accepts some of the things we've always talked about — inclusiveness, giving everybody a chance to get ahead, and sensible things such as public investments — I'm going to do my best to find common ground."
Wyden said Democrats and Republicans may agree on new financing for road and bridge work and other transportation projects.
Although Congress in 2015 extended federal spending authority for five years, it put little new money into programs. States, including Oregon, are considering their own increases.
Wyden, the senior Democrat on the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, said he is interested in working with Republicans to increase money. Trump says he wants to increase spending, but Wyden criticized his proposal as a "giveaway" to private developers that would share ownership and charge tolls to the public.
If Republicans resist direct spending, Wyden said, they may want to consider a variation of Build America bonds he sponsored as part of the economic recovery act Congress passed and Obama signed in 2009.
The program ended up generating $181 billion for public works projects through federal subsidies to state and local governments for a portion of bond interest charges or a refundable tax credit to bond purchasers.
"It's an issue that connects us. There are no Democratic roads and no Republican roads," Wyden said.
"I see that as an opportunity worth my responsibility — and certainly in line with my values — to try to bring people together on a policy I am for."
Although Wyden has not yet voted on any of Trump's Cabinet appointees, he said he had real questions about the civil-rights record of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the nominee for attorney general, and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt for director of the Environmental Protection Agency.
"He has spent his whole adult life on policies to undermine it," Wyden said of Pruitt.
Still a critic
Wyden also is on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which announced Friday it will conduct an investigation into links between Trump's presidential campaign and Russia. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded they have high confidence Russia directed email hacking to disrupt the U.S. presidential campaign — although their report drew no conclusion about why.
Although Wyden mentioned the announcement, he declined to speculate about where the investigation may lead, only that the Republican chairman and senior Democrat agreed to it.
Wyden has been an outspoken critic of the mass collection of telephone metadata by federal agencies that arose after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the East Coast. Obama continued the program begun under President George W. Bush until disclosures by federal contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 forced the National Security Agency to curb it.
But Trump's nominee for director of central intelligence, Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo, wants to roll back the restrictions that Wyden helped usher in — and even expand metadata collection to other sources such as Facebook.
"I do not expect to be any less busy during the Trump years" on this issue, Wyden said afterward.
He also said he expects Trump to renew a push for the ability of law enforcement agencies to obtain electronic access to devices such as cell phones.
"Donald Trump came out for weakening encryption, which will harm security and liberty — and will be bad for companies in Washington County, because they could be required to build (electronic) backdoors into their products," he said. "Companies overseas would be getting a competitive advantage on companies here."
On other issues
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden offered thoughts on other issues at his town hall meeting Sunday in Hillsboro:
Health care: He is still open to what Republicans may propose to replace the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's 2010 signature law that extended coverage to 20 million Americans. But he said Republicans have been unwilling to settle on details of an alternative in favor of "repeal and run."
"The ball is in the majority party's court now. We will see if they are serious about having a replacement with the repeal as they promised."
Immigration: He stands by a 2013 bill, which the Senate passed 68-32, that allows a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants without documents. House Republicans sat on the bill, which Wyden said was essentially the same as a plan advocated in 2005 by then-President George W. Bush and Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Wyden is the son of immigrants who fled Nazi Germany before World War II, although other family members died in the Holocaust.
"If my grandparents were here today, they would be absolutely flabbergasted their grandchild — a first-generation Jewish kid — would have these unbelievable opportunities to serve the best place on the planet. So I do not take a back seat to anybody in terms of recognizing smart immigration policy."
Public lands: He met with Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, Trump's nominee for interior secretary, who opposes a wholesale transfer of public lands to the states contrary to the GOP platform. Wyden sits on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which will consider the nomination.
"We'll have to see how Mr. Zinke does in the hearing. But I walked out of there saying this is something that seems to be more encouraging."
Added brief comments on other issues.