LONGVIEW — Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, fielded questions about inflation, vaccine mandates and local infrastructure programs from the community during a town hall call Tuesday.
Herrera Beutler is in Southwest Washington this week for a job fair she organized in Ridgefield on Thursday. She spoke with residents she represents in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District over the phone for an hour Tuesday afternoon, where she outlined her recent actions in Congress and answered a range of questions from callers.
Herrera Beutler told callers she chose to receive the COVID-19 vaccine earlier this year. She said she believes the science around the vaccines and viewed vaccination as a strong step for protecting her family.
The congresswoman opposes vaccine mandates, however, saying the decision around inoculation should be a personal choice.
“Shaming people or using a heavy-handed government approach has never worked. I’m not sure why we think it would work here,” Herrera Beutler said.
Herrera Beutler added that it was fair for private businesses to require additional testing or masks for employees who choose not to be vaccinated, especially in health care settings, but that firings likely were a step too far.
A caller from Vancouver asked whether the congresswoman would support the $1 trillion infrastructure bill and a $3.5 trillion broader spending bill that recently passed the Senate. Herrera Beutler said she might support the smaller bill if she was happy with the amount dedicated solely to infrastructure projects.
Her opposition to the larger spending bill was more assured. Herrera Beutler said that as a member of the House Committee on Appropriations, she had a strong handle on how challenging the scale of the bill would be for the country’s economy. She said some economists already were worried the bills could lead to excessive inflation and even a potential recession.
“Our budget is about roughly $3 trillion to keep all the federal agencies functioning. So that one bill alone would dwarf that, and the reality is that we can’t afford that,” Herrera Beutler said.
Several callers asked about specific, local infrastructure projects that Herrera Beutler held some funding sway over. Herrera Beutler told a caller from Washougal that new design proposals for the Columbia River Crossing on Interstate 5 would be coming soon, but she wanted to make sure the new bridge would help Clark County commuters.
Herrera Beutler repeatedly cited the funding to expand broadband internet that she had secured for Washington in recent years. She said expanding service that can handle video calls for telehealth services and virtual meetings to rural residents of Southwest Washington would remain a priority for her going forward.
“They need it for health care for people who can’t drive two hours plus to Longview or Vancouver to see a doctor, or they need it for educational purposes,” Herrera Beutler said.
Herrera Beutler and her chief of staff asked callers to take an on-the-spot poll about how they felt the Biden administration handled the removal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Two-thirds of the callers Tuesday night said they supported pulling troops from Afghanistan in principle, but that the president should have had a better plan in place.
“It’s hard to envision a more chaotic withdrawal,” Herrera Beutler said. “It did not need to look like this. And part of my frustration is that Biden is not new to these issues and our foreign policy.”
The leading challenger for Herrera Beutler’s seat in the House of Representatives is Joe Kent, a U.S. Army veteran who lives in Yacolt. Kent told the New York Post earlier this week that the U.S. should “destroy whatever we have to destroy, kill whoever we have to kill to get all of our people out” of Afghanistan.