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The Democratic senator discusses election interference, Iran, impeachment and more

PMG PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden listens to a question from an audience member during the town hall at Meridian Creek Middle School on Saturday, Jan. 18.

For an hour and a half Saturday morning, during a town hall at Meridian Creek Middle School, Wilsonville residents and others grilled U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden about some of the pressing questions facing the United States.

Wyden addressed domestic topics like health care, student debt and the prospects of an infrastructure bill and also delved into foreign policy.

For one, a potential war with Iran was on the minds of a few questioners. A few weeks after the United States killed Iran Gen. Qasem Soleimani via a drone strike, Wyden expressed support for a bill that would limit President Donald Trump's ability to greenlight an attack on Iran without congressional approval (the House of Representatives recently approved a similar bill).

However, he surmised that the Senate didn't yet have enough votes to prevent Trump from vetoing the bill.

Wyden, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, also told the Spokesman that he would support a new deal between Iran and other countries similar to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (finalized during President Barack Obama's administration and then nixed during Trump's presidency) to normalize relations with Iran and prevent the Middle East country from developing nuclear capabilities.

"I think we ought to try to bring back some version of it," Wyden said. "The president said he didn't like that deal. Well, let him go get the allies and let's see if we can come up with something that provides for a peaceful future (and) that he thinks protects our strength."

Wyden also said that he was told by the FBI that the Saudi Arabia government has been helping fugitives charged with serious crimes escape the United States and urged the Trump administration to curtail such efforts.

He then warned of election interference in the coming presidential election and said he was leading the push to pass security measures to prevent that from happening.

"The fact is, as of today, what we're looking at for the 2020 election will make election interference in 2016 look like small potatoes," he said.

The trial over Trump's impeachment was another hot-button topic addressed during the town hall. Trump was impeached for withholding military aid to the Ukranian government to pressure it to investigate presidential candidate Joe Biden. As Wyden noted, rules for the impeachment trial had yet to be adopted. He also said he would support witnesses testifying at the trial.

"By my account, 10 of the president's associates have gone to jail or are headed to jail," he said. "In our part of the world it rains a lot, and to say something like I just described isn't serious is like saying rain isn't wet. Obviously, this is incredibly serious."

Wyden also addressed infrastructure. He said he wished the Trump administration would have prioritized an infrastructure bill at the beginning of the president's term and said the tax cuts Republicans passed in 2017 have created a budget deficit, making it harder to come up with enough money for an expensive program. However, he didn't rule out the possibility of such a bill being signed into law at some point. If he had his druthers, Wyden said he would rejigger the tax code so the government could collect more taxes on investment income.

"The debt is not just some abstract question. This relates to Wilsonville and this community, and right now everyone is saying, 'Where are we going to get the money for an infrastructure bill when $1.5 trillion was handed off to the people at the top?'" he said.

When a citizen asked him about the polarized politics of today, Wyden said collaboration across the aisle is still possible. For instance, he brought up the Senate's passage of a bill to tweak the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Mexico and Canada. He also said the agreement negotiated provided more protection for workers than a previous draft.

"I started thinking about what the Founding Fathers would say and I came to the conclusion that ... I'm going to do everything I can to work for a just outcome rather than a political outcome," he said.

When asked after the town hall what he would like his party's priority to be if Democrats retake the Senate following this November's election, Wyden said revamping the health care system would be his priority.

During the town hall, he expressed a preference for a program that would allow people to buy into Medicare starting at age 50 or a system that provided a public health care option.

"That's what I will focus on first, recognizing that health care ought to be a basic human right and that there is access to decent, quality, affordable care," Wyden said.

To close out the town hall, Wyden got a bit more personal. He said he went to school on a basketball scholarship with a dream to play in the NBA, but instead found himself on the most powerful political body in the country — something

he never imagined growing up as the son of Jewish immigrants.

"I'm deeply grateful for this privilege that I've been given," he said.

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