Richmond Times Dispatch: At Henrico town hall, Spanberger shares concerns about constitutional overreach by Trump

RICHMOND TIMES DISPATCH, PATRICK WILSON

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, defended the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Saturday during a town hall meeting in Henrico County in which a Trump supporter sparred with her over constitutional authority.

Based on applause, a majority of the audience of about 150 people at Tucker High School were supportive of Spanberger. But the swing district includes a mix of opinions on Trump, and people who support the president made their presence known Saturday, at times interjecting during Spanberger’s answers in a meeting that nonetheless remained civil.

“The challenge here is there are allegations that the president of the United States used his power as president,” Spanberger was saying when someone in the audience yelled: “Hearsay allegations!”

The congresswoman continued, saying the allegations are that Trump leveraged taxpayer dollars — appropriated for national security — “to potentially get a foreign government to take an action that would benefit him in a future election.”

A woman in the audience began yelling but was met with a “Shhhhh!” from others in the auditorium.

Spanberger said the allegations against Trump are “troubling” and that “if these allegations are true or if they are false, we need to know.”

The impeachment inquiry focuses on Trump’s decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine while pushing the country’s new president for investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination to challenge Trump next year, and Biden’s son.

Spanberger and Rep. Elaine Luria, D-2nd, who both upset Republican incumbents in last year’s midterm elections, are top priorities for Republicans in next year’s election. Republicans have been running advertising against Spanberger and Luria in their districts because they back the impeachment inquiry.

Spanberger said she was troubled by Trump’s directive to his administration not to testify before the House Intelligence Committee in response to congressional subpoenas.

“When a congressional subpoena is put forth, that individual should come before Congress and provide information — good, bad, innocuous — to Congress,” she said. “It is the power and the authority of Congress.

“And today it’s this inquiry. Tomorrow it will be something else. … Setting an example where the administration can tell someone, ‘Please defy,’ or ‘You must defy this congressional subpoena,’ is not a good precedent to set.”

In introductory remarks, Spanberger highlighted her priorities, including a focus on expanded broadband internet in rural portions of her district and lowering the cost of prescription drugs. She cited passage in the House, by a vote of 403-0, of her bill to bring more transparency to practices of pharmacy benefit managers.

Spanberger said she was troubled by Trump’s July veto of bipartisan congressional resolutions aimed at blocking him from selling billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“What precedent are we setting where the administration can sell weapons to a foreign country? … Under the Constitution, the approval belongs with Congress.”

Timothy Forster of North Chesterfield, who works in information research services, was involved in some back-and-forth with Spanberger during the town hall.

“It’s funny that you want to distinguish about separation of powers, when obviously Congress is overreaching,” he told her.

She replied: “Actually, in the Constitution, one of the elements within the Constitution is the power of impeachment.”

Forster said in an interview afterward that the impeachment inquiry is a “farce” and that he wants Congress to do its job by passing the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. Earlier in the meeting, Spanberger said passage is important.

“Trump has done nothing but his job,” said Forster, who at times held up a Trump sign during the town hall. “Trump has done an excellent job.”

Forster said he wasn’t initially sold on the president and supported a different Republican during the primary campaign, but has come to fully back him.

“I don’t like his use of social media … but man, he’s effective. Far be it for me to criticize what works.”

Lynn Nicholson, a retired teacher from Henrico, feels the opposite and, in a question to Spanberger, she said she was bothered by Trump’s prolific use of executive orders and lack of vetting for important appointments.

She said in an interview later that she has always considered herself an independent, and has watched all the public testimony so far in the impeachment inquiry.

Trump “does not, I don’t think, care about the common man,” she said. “Anybody who has 70,000 children separated from their families at the border … that is not a compassionate or empathetic person.”

Nicholson added: “He’s always pointing fingers at people, and you’re either with him or against him, and if you’re not with him, then he will vehemently attack you.”

Spanberger has held a town hall meeting in each of the 10 counties in the 7th District. Saturday’s town hall was her second in Henrico.

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