U.S. Rep. Greg Walden at a recent appearance in Ontario. (The Enterprise/file)
HERMISTON -- Hours after President Donald Trump signed his first veto, Rep. Greg Walden’s vote in favor of the vetoed bill was on a lot of minds in Hermiston.
During a town hall at the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center on Friday afternoon, Walden fielded several questions about his decision to vote for a resolution blocking Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to get more funding for a border wall. Trump vetoed the resolution Friday, and Congress is not expected to be able to rally the needed two-thirds majority to overturn the veto.
Patricia Maier of Hermiston pressed Walden on why he didn’t “stand with our president” as Trump faces opposition in enacting his vision for the country.
“I’ve seen the deceitfulness and hatefulness through the media, through the Democrats and now through 15 or 16 Republicans, you being one of them,” she said.
She accused Walden of doing a poor job of supporting Trump.
Walden said on almost every issue he has voted with the president. He pointed out that he had voted in favor of a previous bill that would have given $25 billion over five years for a wall and increased judges, agents and other resources at the border. He said he believed border security was essential to national security.
In this case, however, Walden said he had never seen a president negotiate a number with Congress in good faith, then try to use emergency powers to get more money anyway. Keeping in mind that Congress is supposed to have “the power of the purse,” he said he believed the separation of powers between the branches of government was essential to democracy and required protection.
“It’s a lonely fight protecting the Constitution from executive overreach, and it’s especially uncomfortable when it’s your own president,” he said.
Walden pointed out that Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president, has said he will declare climate change a national emergency on “day one” if elected. Other Democrats could use the precedent set by Trump to declare a national emergency on gun violence to pursue a gun control agenda.
Walden also said he was concerned by Trump’s plan to take the money from the budget for military construction projects that had been planned to “protect our men and women in uniform.”
“This isn’t some slush fund,” he said.
Maier pushed back on Walden’s answers several times, stating it was frustrating to see the lack of progress on border security and immigration reform, and disagreeing with Walden about whether additional funding for a border wall was an emergency.
“When they flood over and kill our agents and break into families’ homes, when is it a national emergency?” she asked.
Tony Justus of Pendleton asked Walden if he thought the law that allowed Trump to declare a national emergency should be repealed.
Walden replied that he thought it needed reviewed. He said there were other routes the president could have taken to get more funding, and referenced a comment Trump had made publicly that he didn’t need to declare an emergency but wanted to do it to build the wall faster. But he said there were some cases where there might be a legitimate reason to declare one.
“If we have an Ebola outbreak, and Congress can’t act quickly, and you have to jump on that, I think it would be appropriate,” he said.
Other commenters questioned where the money was coming from for migrants to form caravans from Central American countries, and questioned why Republicans hadn’t gotten something done on immigration before they lost control of the House. One man said after listening to Walden’s defense of his vote for blocking the national emergency declaration, it had caused him to change his mind in favor of Walden’s view.
“Thank you for sticking by your guns,” he said.
Border security wasn’t the only topic discussed at Friday’s town hall, which drew about 100 people. Walden also discussed fentanyl, infrastructure, daylight saving time, forest fires, guns, the Bonneville Power Administration, the Columbia River Treaty, free speech and Nancy Pelosi.
On drug issues, Walden pointed to work he had done to help bring together a bipartisan package of 60 bills — 57 of which passed unanimously — to fight opioid abuse. He presented Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston with a framed “redline” of the opioid bill, noting that Edmiston’s input had been valuable in crafting the law.
He said more work was still to be done to stop more-deadly fentanyl from entering the country by mail and at the border. He said last year 1 ton of fentanyl had been intercepted while being smuggled into the country — “enough to kill 480 million people in America.”
Walden also noted some progress on bills meant to help prevent forest fires, but said he was disappointed that laws had not passed allowing for the fast removal of damaged trees from federal forests after a wildfire. Instead, he said, they are mostly left to rot, which can create for more hazardous conditions when the next fire comes through.
In answer to a question about what was being done to promote new infrastructure, such as bridges, Walden described Trump as a “builder” and said that infrastructure was a passion of the president’s. He said he was optimistic there would be a large infrastructure bill coming out of Congress in the future.
When someone asked how Nancy Pelosi had gotten elected Speaker of the House, Walden told the story of 17-term incumbent Rep. Ralph Hall of Texas coming in after losing a primary to current Rep. John Ratcliffe and saying he had finally figured out how it happened: “The other fellow got more votes than me!”
Pelosi had simply gotten more votes, Walden said.
“You may not like her, you may not agree with her, and never underestimate her,” he said.
Walden said it was interesting to see the shift to the left taking place in the Democratic Party. Pelosi used to be the liberal one in Congress, he said, and now she is a moderating influence on incoming members of Congress who run even further to the left.
Walden said there were plenty of disagreements — in Congress and during his town halls — but at the end of the day “we still live in the best country in the world.”
Jade McDowell is a reporter for Pendleton's East Oregonian who covers city government and economic development in Hermiston, Umatilla, Stanfield and Echo. Story used with permission.