In a telephone town hall with constituents, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, repeatedly swung the conversation around to bipartisanship.
In response to questions about a wide range of topics – climate change, COVID-19 relief, immigration and infrastructure – the six-term congresswoman kept returning to the unofficial theme of the remote forum Thursday night.
“I strongly believe in bipartisanship,” Herrera Beutler said at the start of the call, pointing to her work on the Congressional Problem Solvers Caucus. “The goal of the caucus is to demonstrate that even though we have big differences, there are enough problems to go around that we can work on some together.”
By leaning into her bipartisan, deal-making credentials, Herrera Beutler continued down the path she carved out in January when she voted to impeach then-President Donald Trump. Her vote effectively severed her relationship with the formal GOP organizations in her district; among moderates and independents, however, she’s earned accolades.
And while multiple conservative candidates have announced a challenge to her right in 2022, Herrera Beutler has plenty of room in the middle. She seemed comfortable there Thursday evening.
One caller told the congresswoman that he admired the backbone she showed in her impeachment vote: “It made me think of you in an entirely different way,” he said.
Herrera Beutler responded that the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was surreal, as was knowing that more than 10,000 people were trying to break into the building and stop the certification of a presidential election.
“Obviously, it’s taken a lot of my time and attention in the recent months. I felt like I really had to look at it irrespective of which party was in the White House,” Herrera Beutler said.
“Some argue (Trump) didn’t incite it. I saw it differently,” she said. “The reality is that if you’re the commander in chief, and there’s an attack on the Capitol or really just an attack on U.S. soil, you have a responsibility to do everything you can to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Herrera Beutler spent a considerable portion of the town hall discussing government spending, both in regards to the federal COVID-19 relief package and the various revenue-raising bills under consideration in the state Legislature.
Last week, Herrera Beutler sent a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee urging him to reconsider advancing any bills that would raise taxes. Prospects on the table include a billionaire tax, a sweetened beverage tax and a capital gains tax on sales of certain high-end assets over $250,000.
Despite the pandemic, she said, the Washington state budget is in good shape, especially after the latest round of federal COVID-19 stimulus money.
“I have always believed that you should keep more than your money. You spend it better than the government will at just about every turn,” Herrera Beutler said. The state proposals, she said, “really sharply conflate with the reality that small businesses and families have been losing money hand over fist.”
Another caller pointed out that Herrera Beutler actually voted against that stimulus package. The lack of bipartisanship was frustrating, the caller added: “You’re talking about all the money we’re getting – there wasn’t a single Republican who supported the bailout.”
In response, Herrera Beutler argued that the COVID-19 relief package was too bloated and that it was full of items that had nothing to do with the pandemic.
“Maybe not even bad things, but things not related to COVID. It was a bit of a wish list,” Herrera Beutler said. It was the Democrats and President Joe Biden who refused to make concessions, she said.
“When you do something bipartisan, it means you have to change your original proposal. You have to give and you have to take,” she said. “Certainly everyone on this call knows that I’m not afraid to criticize a commander in chief when I don’t like what he’s doing.”
Infrastructure and immigration
Herrera Beutler also fielded questions about infrastructure. One caller asked about the fate of a prospective federal package under the Biden administration.
The congresswoman responded that infrastructure is generally a topic on which both parties share a decent amount of common ground.
“I’ve never met a Democrat bridge or Republican railway. Infrastructure is not inherently partisan anyway,” Herrera Beutler said. “No one party has a corner on all good ideas.”
Between Interstate-5 and multiple ports along the Columbia River, Southwest Washington is a huge exporter and a high priority at the federal level, she added.
The elephant in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District is the Interstate 5 Bridge, which was also a topic of conversation Thursday.
Another caller – a Vancouver resident who said that they work in Portland – asked what concrete progress had been made on the ongoing effort to revamp the I-5 Bridge.
A few steering and advisory groups are continuing to work toward a plan, Herrera Beutler responded, though she said she’s worried that they’ll repeat the same mistakes that ultimately doomed a similar effort to rebuild the bridge in 2012. She said that effort failed because it didn’t incorporate enough public feedback early into the process.
“I am all for upgrading that bridge infrastructure in a way that reduces congestion and gets you to work, or to the doctor or wherever you’re going, in less time,” Herrera Beutler said.
Near the end of the forum, a caller asked the congresswoman how the U.S. should handle migrants at its southern border. In response, Herrera Beutler – herself a daughter of an immigrant from Mexico – again preached moderation.
She called for compassion for those who come into the country as young kids. She also expressed support for a seasonal work program that would allow immigrants in certain industries, like agriculture, to cross legally and return home.
“I don’t think it should be partisan to say that the borders are controlled,” Herrera Beutler said. “All these things, I think, take a little bit of compromise. I think they take a willingness to turn the rhetoric down a little bit.”