Of late, the United States Congress has grappled with some major attention-riveting matters.
The impeachment of a president, the killing of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq on Jan. 3, etc.
But in the day to day, U.S. 8th Congressional District Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Issaquah, told a Town Hall at Auburn Avenue Theater last Sunday afternoon, most of her energy is spent on issues that may not get as much ink as the big stuff but are of no less importance to the day-to-day lives of her constituents.
Working with her House colleagues in December, for example, to pass the Medicare Rx bill to lower drug prices.
Like fighting climate change, or working to end large corporate PAC contributions to political campaigns, to cut into gun violence as it affects children, to help the nation’s farmers and to advocate for free school lunches for all children.
And, of great interest to the Issaquah pediatrician, writing a bill to stanch the fire hose of misinformation out there throwing shade on the safety of childhood vaccinations.
She also took written questions from what turned out to be a mostly friendly crowd.
She came out strongly against the Trump Administration’s deep cuts to the food stamp (SNAP) program.
“This is the wrong place to cut,” Schrier said. “There are certain investments that are just so, so worthwhile. They’re worth many times what we invest in them. Things like food, housing, education, and those are places where I’m going to bat for the 8th District because it doesn’t serve any of us for people to be hungry. Hungry workers are not better workers, hungry workers get sick more often, and hungry children don’t do as well in school. This just makes good, common sense.”
One audience member suggested she advocate for universal free breakfast and lunch for K-12 students.
“I love that question,” Schrier said. “I have been working a lot with hunger in our country in general. One in nine families in the 8th District depends on food stamps or SNAP. There is a big push by Sonny Purdue (head of the USDA) under the leadership of our president to put in stringent work requirements for people to get food benefits. The thing is that the vast majority of people who get SNAP benefits are already working.
“The other thing that they are attacking is something called categorical eligibility, which means that if you qualify for temporary assistance for needy families in the form of money or food, health care, then you automatically qualify for free school lunches and school breakfasts. And it just makes sense: it cuts down on the bureaucracy; it gets people who need food, food. Students who get good nourishment do better in school, they have fewer behavioral problems, it’s been shown time and time again.”
The one notable moment of dissent sparked when moderator Nancy Backus read a question from the audience that asserted there had once been 3,000 feet of ice over the entire region, argued that the earth has warmed up and cooled down before to where it is now, and questioned her belief in “climate change fraud,” which he derided as, “an avenue to take people’s money.”
Schrier recalled a conversation she’d had on the House floor with a colleague, a climate change skeptic, who‘d quoted figures at her to argue against climate change. But when she researched those numbers, she said, failed to find them in any reputable scientific journal, or on the EPA website or or on any university website.
She did, however, find the figures, “as talking points on some random website.”
“I think it’s really important to look at the broad picture, to look at the graphs,” Schrier said. “Yes, we have gone through ebbs and flows, but we have not seen anything like the exponential rise in Co2 emissions, and in temperature change in our climate that we are seeing in the last 100 years. So yes, there are ebbs and flows, but let’s not misinterpret science, or bastardize science for political reasons,” Schrier said.
“Are you saying those numbers are incorrect?” the questioner pressed. “There are historical facts over in Eastern Washington and all over. You’ll find a good story on that 3,000 feet of ice. Those are facts.”
And when the question from the audience was what she, Kim Schrier, now representing much of King, Pierce, Kittitas, Chelan and even parts of Douglas county, would do to prevent war with Iran, there was a perceptible shifting of bottoms to the front of seats and a ratcheting up of attention.
Schrier described her first reaction to the breaking news as “frustration” with how partisan the responses were: condemnation from Democrats; cheering on from Republicans. Judgments rendered, she noted, before Congress had even been briefed and before anyone outside of the administration really knew what had happened, and why.
If there was an “imminent threat,” as the Trump Administration insists, Schrier said, “then the president absolutely has the authority to make those decisions before consulting Congress.”
But what was that imminent threat?
“It seems in the days between then and now, that this has just gotten cloudier,” Schrier said. “The reporting is that they were on very thin ice with this being an imminent threat, that the threat may have been more general, that the choice to assassinate Soleimani was on a list of possible interventions, and that it was put on the list there as kind of the crazy one to make the other ones seem more reasonable. “
It seems more and more the case, Schrier continued, that it was “a spur-of-the-moment decision,” made without forethought, catalyzing “a very serious escalation.”
“The option to take him out was on the table under George W. Bush and under Obama, and both looked at this and said, ‘He’s a bad guy, he’s got blood on his hands, he’s an awful person, and is a threat to Americans and to the world order and the Middle East, but if we take out this guy, we’re likely to create more terrorists than we kill; we are likely to galvanize anti-American sentiment, we are likely to put more Americans at risk than we help.’
“That is my great concern right now – that we may have just tripped into a war with Iran and with Iranian proxies like Hezbollah without giving this a very great deal of consideration in terms of what the ramifications would be going forward. I don’t have an answer for that other than to say Congress needs to be consulted before going to war. That is the rule, and I am looking forward to being briefed,” Schrier said.