CLINT SCHEMMER, CULPEPER STAR EXPONENT
Rep. Abigail Spanberger covered the waterfront during her Culpeper town hall Tuesday night, fielding questions on a wide range of issues, including agriculture, immigration, health care and more.
About 100 people gathered in Culpeper County High School’s auditorium to hear the 7th District’s first-term congresswoman share her thoughts on what mattered to them, and what she’s been working on.
The hour-long meeting was the eighth town hall that the Democrat has held in the 10-county district since she took the oath of office in January.
It began with her greeting five Girl Scouts from Culpeper’s Troops 260 and 38177 in a hallway backstage before entering the hall to a standing ovation. The Scouts then led Spanberger and participants in the Pledge of Allegiance. Spanberger, who is raising three daughters, is a Girl Scout leader in her home county, Henrico.
She began by outlining three of the issues important to her: improving health-care affordability, providing better high-speed Internet access in rural communities, and seeing that Congress exercises its war-powers authority.
Spanberger said she has introduced legislation to create greater transparency in drug pricing, so that prices are held down and patients can track cost changes.
On internet connectivity, she noted that seven of the district’s 10 counties have major issues with broadband.
The lack of high-speed internet harms farmers, businesses, students and economic development. And it is an issue across the country, as demonstrated by a broadband-funding bill of hers that received more than 400 votes in the House, she said.
On deploying American troops abroad, Spanberger said Congress must fulfill its constitutional responsibility—which it has not since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 9, 2001—to debate whether to authorize such a use of military force.
“If our country is going to send service members overseas, every member of Congress should be on the hook for a vote,” she said.
Going forward, Congress must use its war powers, Spanberger said: “I feel very, very strongly about that.”
Within 32 minutes, the hottest of topics came up.
Peggy Kenney of Jeffersonton asked Spanberger what she thinks if the House decides to study whether to impeach President Donald Trump.
“I believe in facts and evidence,” the congresswoman replied. “… Wherever we are going, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me, as a lawmaker, to have a predetermined destination.”
Spanberger said she is closely following the House investigations of the administration, and has read the full report by the Department of Justice’s special counsel, Robert Mueller.
The congresswoman noted that one lawmaker introduced articles of impeachment based on president’s history of racist remarks. The House tabled the proposal, with Spanberger’s vote. The actions in question weren’t impeachable offenses—–bribery, treason, or high crimes and dismeanors, she noted.
“A lot of my answer depends fully on whatever articles are put forth and whatever evidence is given to support those articles,” Spanberger said.
Three of about 12 questioners asked about Spanberger’s stance on permitting utility-scale solar power plants in Culpeper, and federal tax subsidies for solar facilities.
The lawmaker, saying she supports renewable energy, said it was an issue for localities—not Congress—to decide.
In a brief interview before the town hall, Spanberger was asked by the Culpeper Star-Exponent about election security and her recent trip with other House members to U.S. immigration facilities on the Mexican border.
On the first issue, she said “I think voters need to recognize that this is a real threat. We need the Senate and the House to take this issue of election security very seriously. … It is not a partisan issue.
“The notion that a foreign country would try to hack our political system should be a unifying call to action for every American, to want to defend against that,” Spanberger said. “We can defend against that through educating ourselves, educating our neighbors, talking about this issue in a nonpartisan, nonpolitical way.”
She urged voters, whether in the 7th District or nationwide, to be vigilant and to urge their senators to take action to strengthen election security.
Last week, hours after former FBI Director Robert Mueller testified to Congress that Russia is actively trying to interfere with U.S. elections, Senate Republicans declined to vote on bipartisan election-security legislation. Then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell derailed a vote on a bill that would have authorized hundreds of millions of dollars to update voting equipment.
Spanberger expressed deep concern that the Senate wouldn’t even debate “pretty simple, straightforward measures—paper ballots to back up your vote, and if anyone from a foreign government tries to get information related to your election, you report it to the FBI.”
“The fact that the Senate won’t vote on that is egregious,” she said. “If it’s a bad idea, let it fail in the Senate. But it’s not; it’s an excellent idea, and I imagine that it would pass with overwhelming support, which makes it particularly shocking that we can’t get a vote on that in the Senate. I don’t want to be an alarmist, but I think this is a very important issue.
“We have seen, time and time again, in Sen. McConnell an obstructionist who is unwilling to put bills for a vote, particularly when he thinks they will pass,” she continued. “I question and I do not begin to understand why simple election-security measures would be unacceptable to him, or something he wouldn’t want to bring forward for, at least, debate and a vote. To predetermine that it’s not even worthy of consideration, I think, is an absolute example of negligence.”
She noted in addition that “House members are continuing to introduce bills focused on Russia’s ability to wage disinformation campaigns against American communities and voters.”
To ensure states and localities know what threats exist and try to address them, Spanberger introduced legislation to require the director of national intelligence to report on those issues 180 days before a general election.
The fact that the president has nominated for director of national intelligence Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas, “[a man] who has demonstrated contempt for the intelligence community, does not give me any more confidence that we’re on the right path in terms of protecting our democracy,” she said.
Reflecting on her recent visit to the nation’s southern border, she said the United States “broken and outdated” immigration system must be modernized.
“I don’t see what we have another option,” she said. American businesses, including in Culpeper and Central Virginia, depend on people being able to legally obtain visas and cross into the U.S. from Mexico.
Piecemeal fixes won’t work, given the interconnectedness of issues at the border; change one thing and it affects all the other parts of the system, she said.
The nation must address immigration comprehensively by recognizing policies that don’t work and tackling the problems that cause people to flee their homes, she said.
She criticized the administration for cutting millions of dollars in U.S. aid for the Northern Triangle countries that would help potential migrants of the long, difficult and uncertain journey ahead of them if they attempt to cross into the United States.