Wyden 'optimistic' ahead of a transformative week in government
Despite the challenges facing Washington County, Oregon and the United States, Sen. Ron Wyden is "optimistic" and "eager" to get to work this year, he told county residents at a virtual town hall meeting Sunday, Jan. 17.
Unable to hold his customary annual town hall meetings in person in each of Oregon's 36 counties due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Wyden has been conducting the meetings by videoconference instead. Sunday's town hall meeting was held in Washington County itself, at the offices of the News-Times in downtown Forest Grove.
Wyden is set to chair the Senate Finance Committee, with Democrats expected to take control of the Senate once Sens.-elect Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia and Sen.-designate Alex Padilla of California are sworn in. That will leave the Senate split 50-50, with incoming Vice President Kamala Harris serving as a tiebreaker.
Although he didn't mince words about the unprecedented Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol — he described participants as "domestic terrorists — Wyden said he is looking forward to the sea change that's coming in Washington, D.C. A vociferous critic of the Trump administration, Wyden spoke highly of President-elect Joe Biden, his former Senate colleague, and previewed policy changes he predicted will happen soon under the new administration and Democrat-led Congress.
One example is the vaccination program to protect Americans from the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. Wyden said the Trump administration "flubbed in the most unfortunate way" on its vaccine rollout.
"But Joe Biden is making it clear that on the first full day of his term — he's going to be sworn in January 20th — he's going to start laying out new standards for a national game plan on vaccinations. And I am pleased that he's including some of my ideas," Wyden added. He mentioned priority access to the new vaccines for essential workers and ramping up the federal distribution of personal protective equipment, which state officials complained last year the Trump administration had not done enough to help states procure.
Responding to another questioner, Wyden expressed confidence that with Democrats controlling the House, Senate and White House, gun control measures long opposed by congressional Republican leadership will be on the agenda.
"We're going to get common-sense gun safety measures passed," said Wyden.
He name-checked newly elected Sen. Mark Kelly, an Arizona Democrat whose wife, then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was shot and nearly killed by a mentally ill constituent with a legally purchased handgun in 2011. Kelly is one of four Democrats who flipped U.S. Senate seats from Republican control during the past election cycle.
Another questioner, who identified himself as a longtime employee of the U.S. Postal Service, expressed concern about political meddling in the USPS by the Trump administration. Postmaster-General Louis DeJoy, a Trump ally, was roundly criticized by state officials and congressional Democrats last year for hobbling the USPS, limiting overtime and removing mail sorting machines, resulting in lengthy mail delays.
Wyden said he shares that concern, but he's confident that the incoming Biden administration won't stand for any sabotage of the USPS.
"Joe Biden is not going to privatize the Postal Service," Wyden said.
Wyden also discussed a few of Biden's nominees for Cabinet positions, with Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax inquiring about Pete Buttigieg, whom Biden has nominated for transportation secretary, and Miguel Cardona, the president-elect's nominee for education secretary, in particular.
Wyden said he's already spoken with Buttigieg, who was one of Biden's rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination last year. Buttigieg was previously best known as the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a city east of Chicago that is about the same size as Hillsboro or Beaverton.
"I'm very upbeat about him," Wyden said. "I think he has the potential to be one of the real stars in American government for years to come."
Wyden also spoke to the resumes of Cardona and Gina Raimondo, Biden's nominee for commerce secretary. Both are from small states in New England: Cardona is Connecticut's education commissioner, and Raimondo is governor of Rhode Island. Of Raimondo, he predicted, she will inherit "a big mess to clean up" due to the Trump administration's efforts to influence the 2020 Census, results of which were expected to be released last month but now won't be forthcoming until March or later.
As for his thoughts on the Jan. 6 insurrection, Wyden said he's not able to share details of his experience for security reasons, but he doesn't think the event will fade from public consciousness anytime soon.
"I think we know that the last four years have made a serious stress test for our democracy, and January 6th, looking at what we went through, is going to go down in infamy in terms of American history," Wyden said. "But Monday morning, I'm going to leave my home in Southeast Portland about 4 a.m. I'm going to walk out of the house in these predawn hours … really optimistic, really eager, to get back and to go after the important issues that we heard about all this week."
Speaking to the Pamplin Media Group after signing off, Wyden elaborated a little further.
"Normally, with an event like this that takes place, memories kind of fade," he said. "This is one where we're going to keep learning more, more and more, and that's going to guide, I think, much of what's done in terms of new procedures and new requirements. And a big part of what the government's got to do is the government's got to be honest with the public."
The Department of Defense has authorized up to 25,000 National Guard members to be deployed in Washington, D.C., this week for the Jan. 20 inauguration of Biden and Harris. They will bolster already-thousands-strong police forces in the city and at the U.S. Capitol. Dozens of downtown streets have already been blocked off in preparation for the event, an unusual step for a transfer of power that, in normal times, is witnessed by hundreds of thousands of spectators along the National Mall.
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