Herrera Beutler leans toward voting no on Syria military strike

Congresswoman also discusses plan for parenting hospitalized baby daughter

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian Assistant Metro Editor



U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler said Monday she’s still leaning toward a “no” vote on whether the U.S. should launch a military strike against Syria to punish the regime for allegedly using chemical weapons against its own citizens.

The Camas Republican said that a fully developed plan for success in Syria is lacking, even more so than when the U.S. intervened in Libya in 2011, an action she opposed. Even though the U.S. became involved, Libya’s situation remains dismal, she said.

“I know that what happened and what (the Syrian) government is doing with chemical attacks is wrong, and it’s horrific,” Herrera Beutler said during a phone interview with The Columbian. But, “I would want to know much, much more clearly what our game plan would be, what victory would look like, (and) what we hope to achieve. … This administration is going to have a pretty tough job convincing me, because I don’t know if they have the answers to those questions.”

President Barack Obama has requested congressional approval before the U.S. attacks Syria, but a majority of Congress either opposes the strike, leans toward opposing it or is undecided.

Russian leaders, who are allied with Syria, suggested that Syria turn over its chemical weapons to international monitors. Obama said Monday that such an action could provide a breakthrough in the international standoff.

Herrera Beutler, meanwhile, is planning to fly from California to Washington, D.C., to vote on the matter this week. Since July, she’s been at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto with her newborn daughter, Abigail Rose Beutler, who was born prematurely and without functioning kidneys.

Pushing boundaries

Herrera Beutler spent the past week in the national media spotlight, advocating for more medical options when a fetus is diagnosed with Potter’s Syndrome, as was the case with her daughter. Doctors had considered Abigail’s type of Potter’s Syndrome fatal. It limits kidney development and amniotic fluid in the uterus, which in turn prevents the lungs from growing.

But Herrera Beutler found a doctor willing to try an unproven treatment: injecting saline into her uterus to take the place of amniotic fluid. That allowed Abigail’s lungs to grow, and the baby is considered the first to survive her diagnosis. National news outlets are calling Abigail a “miracle baby,” and Herrera Beutler has been interviewed about her ordeal on NBC’s “Today” show and ABC’s Sunday political talk show “This Week.”

Herrera Beutler said Monday that because the treatment was so cutting edge, it’s still unknown whether it would work for other expectant mothers. Still, she’s already received contact from women facing the same situation, and she said she wants saline injections to be an option that doctors take more seriously.

“This is something any OB-GYN can do,” she said. “They take saline, just sterile saline water, and they put fluid into the womb.”

She also said her experience hasn’t changed her opposition to Obama’s 2010 health care reforms. She said she still believes Obamacare is the wrong approach to making health care more affordable, and there are other reforms that would decrease health care costs by increasing economic competition.

Herrera Beutler also answered criticisms on Monday that she received special medical treatment because of her status. She said her health care coverage is “not over the top” and it’s the same coverage that other federal employees receive. She said she didn’t receive the unproven treatment because she’s a congresswoman, but because she found a willing doctor after multiple failed attempts to locate one.

“We were told ‘no’ over and over and over again, as were a lot of these other moms,” Herrera Beutler said. She said the name of the doctor she found in Boston was given to her by a parent who heard about her story. The doctor agreed to the treatment because it wouldn’t harm Herrera Beutler, and because she felt Herrera Beutler understood that the treatment probably wouldn’t work.

Herrera Beutler said that her case wasn’t necessarily about her having health insurance; parents with insurance were still being denied the treatment she received. “It’s more about whether or not the medical community is willing to push established boundaries,” she said.

Making it work

Herrera Beutler said she felt confident that she and her husband, Daniel Beutler, had a good plan for balancing their career and family ambitions.

“Any first-time mom is probably anxious just about the process,” she said. “Add to that working outside the home, and you want to take stock. You want to make sure that you’re going to be able to be effective, both as a mom, and for me, as a representative.”

The couple’s plan was reworked, however, when Abigail’s medical reality became known. Now, Herrera Beutler’s husband has decided to put his law school studies on hold and be Abigail’s primary caregiver, she said.

“We’re going to make it work the way other families do,” Herrera Beutler said. Once the baby receives a kidney transplant, she won’t require as much medical care, she added.

Babies must be about 20 pounds before they can receive a kidney transplant. That’s at about the 18-month mark for babies who weren’t born prematurely. Herrera Beutler said Abigail is on track to weigh 7 pounds by her former due date next month.

Herrera Beutler isn’t sure exactly when Abigail will be able to come home from the hospital, and Herrera Beutler has said she will resume her full congressional duties once that happens. In the meantime, she’s traveling to D.C. for crucial votes and relying on her staff more heavily to communicate with 3rd District constituents.

Abigail is undergoing peritoneal dialysis, which is performed manually through the baby’s abdomen. The baby needs to grow before she can receive machine-run dialysis and leave the hospital. She has to grow to the right size, and that could take a few more months, Herrera Beutler said.

“This first year is really all about growth for her,” Herrera Beutler said. “They want to make sure she’s physically big enough for a kidney.”

Herrera Beutler said she knows it’s uncommon for a member of Congress to be a woman who is also raising a young child, but it shouldn’t be a surprise anymore that many career women also want to be parents.

“One of the things I bring (to Congress) is I’m younger. I have a different perspective,” she said. “If we want more women serving, whether it’s in a job like this or in a business capacity, we’re going to recognize that they’re going to want families, too.”

Policy decisions

In her congressional role, Herrera Beutler said, she will look for a solution to the debate this month over raising the nation’s debt ceiling, which allows the U.S. to make payments on its debt. She said she doesn’t want the country to default on its loans, but she also doesn’t want to raise the debt limit without passing policies that aim to reduce the national debt.

“I think it’s silly for either side to be posturing and threatening, because we all either win or lose together,” she said. It doesn’t help to say, “forget about the debt, we’ll just keep raising the nation’s credit card, or say I’m going to let the whole thing shut down and devolve into chaos. We can do this in a reasonable, adult-like fashion.”

Herrera Beutler, an opponent of the Columbia River Crossing project, said she’s also working with leaders in Southwest Washington to come up with a different approach for a new bridge over the Columbia River. The CRC was believed dead after Washington state legislators declined to commit $450 million to it this year, but Oregon officials are trying to resurrect part of the project. The Oregon-led plan would still replace the Interstate 5 Bridge and extend light rail from Portland to Vancouver, but it wouldn’t update I-5 freeway interchanges north of state Highway 14 in Vancouver.

“They need to have something that’s going to work not just for Oregon, but also for us, and that was the issue with the (CRC),” she said. “We want to come up with an idea that will meet the needs of Clark County residents, and we’d like to invite Oregon to be a part of that.”

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523; http://facebook.com/reportermathieu; http://twitter.com/col_politics; stevie.mathieu@columbian.com.

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