She’s still a newbie, but Southwest Washington’s new congresswoman is working to get her footing in the huge freshman class that swept into office last month, allowing the GOP to capture control of the U.S. House and shifting the balance of power in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler is part of that wave. And although the Camas Republican is scrambling to get up to speed, she already has some ideas about where she’ll focus her time and energy.
In two wide-ranging interviews with The Columbian late last week, Herrera Beutler said she’ll likely cross swords with the GOP leadership over its support for raising the federal debt ceiling. She believes the way Congress funds transportation projects is “archaic” and needs reform. And she intends to take a hard look at hundreds of new Environmental Protection Agency regulations that she fears could stifle economic growth.
Herrera Beutler vowed to take a hard line on enforcing immigration laws at the border and to support bills aimed at reducing the flow of illegal immigrants. Those include a measure that would declare English to be the nation’s official language and another that would require employers to use E-Verify to check the citizenship status of potential employees.
She declined to say how she would vote on a constitutional amendment to end the right to U.S. citizenship now held by everybody born in the United States. Her father, Armando Herrera, is of Mexican descent.
Herrera Beutler, at 32 one of the youngest women ever to serve in Congress, told a town hall meeting Thursday night that after three weeks on the job, security guards at the doors of the House chambers still mistake her for a congressional staffer. That’s the job she held before she moved back to Clark County in 2007 to seek appointment to a vacant legislative seat.
She now holds a coveted seat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. She will serve on three transportation subcommittees and as vice-chairman of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, which has jurisdiction over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and implementation of the Clean Water Act.
In late January, Herrera Beutler joined 17 other House members in signing a letter to the chairwoman of the Council on Environmental Quality protesting a series of biological opinions by the National Marine Fisheries Service that would restrict the use of pesticides and herbicides in sensitive salmon watersheds.
“At a time when our economy is already struggling, these regulations would cost jobs and impose a significant blow on the ability for the economy to recover,” the members wrote. They asked the administration to seek an extension on implementation of the new rules to ensure that they are based on the best available science.
Herrera Beutler has not yet signed on to a separate House bill that would prevent the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide to slow climate change.
But she said, “We do need to take a strong look at EPA regulations,” including nearly 1,000 new rules recently adopted by the agency. Federal regulators “need to be solution-oriented and science-based,” she said. “In this economy, when we are in double-digit unemployment, the government needs to be circumspect” in imposing new rules that create uncertainty for businesses.
Among other environmental regulations, she said, she intends to use her subcommittee vice chairmanship to review stormwater rules under the Clean Water Act that she said create a hardship for many of her rural constituents.
On transportation policy, Herrera Beutler said, “I think we need as a country to have a comprehensive approach to our nation’s infrastructure.” The way federal projects are chosen for funding now, largely through lobbying by members for projects in their home states or districts, “is archaic,” she said. “That is no way to deal with our infrastructure needs. We need a systematic plan.”
Asked about her support for the Columbia River Crossing, she pointed out that the 3rd District covers parts of seven counties, and that public opinion varies across the district regarding the need for a new multibillion-dollar bridge.
At Thursday’s town hall in Battle Ground, she said she supported a new bridge but “not at any cost,” and that she wanted to hear more about the design and cost of the project. On Friday, she said she felt validated by Thursday’s recommendation from a panel of bridge experts who concluded that the current bridge design should be scrapped because of its appearance, high cost and questionable durability.
On health reform, Herrera Beutler defended her largely symbolic vote for repeal of President Obama’s national health reform bill and stressed that she wants to see a replacement bill sooner rather than later. She added that the states have an important role to play in designing their own plans for implementing health reform.
“We can get solutions out of the states,” she said.
During her congressional campaign, Herrera Beutler stressed her support for gun rights. That won her the endorsement of the National Rifle Association. The Columbian asked her whether, in the wake of the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson, Ariz., which killed six people and wounded 13, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, she could support restrictions on the sale of extended magazines like the one that allowed alleged assailant Jared Lee Loughner to get off at least 30 shots before he stopped to reload.
She said she was not familiar with the issue but stood by her position. “I’m not going to support limiting anyone in Southwest Washington’s Second Amendment rights just because an individual chose to break the law,” she said.
Regarding her own safety and the safety of her staff, she said a liaison in her Vancouver district office will inform local law enforcement agencies whenever she is in town and meeting with constituents.
In keeping with the position of her party, Herrera Beutler has not budged on her commitment to cut federal spending and reduce the federal deficit.
Can she name an issue on which she might differ with House Speaker John Boehner? Yes, she said.
“So far, the debt ceiling is an issue where I disagree” with the speaker’s position, she said. As she told her Battle Ground audience Thursday, she wants to see any increase in the debt ceiling tied to future spending cuts.
Although she’s clearly in the Republican mainstream, it appears that Herrera Beutler has not fully immersed herself in the partisan fervor of the nation’s capital. Though she attended President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech on Jan. 25, she didn’t watch the televised GOP responses to the president’s speech.
Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or firstname.lastname@example.org.