Within the first month of his Presidency, Donald Trump’s executive orders have halted the travel of immigrants, prompted angry protests and stirred fears and concerns about health care across America. Republican congressional leaders have been facing outrage and anger from their constituents in contentious town halls on their return home.
Congressman Gregory Meeks (Democrat), in his return from DC, held a series of immigration and health care town halls during the first week of March. In addition, he held an update meeting for community leaders and clergy.
“There are so many things going on, I don’t know where to start,” said the Congressman. “Every day I wake up, seems to be something else.”
The Congressman had a robust list of update items for the group. This included feedback from US allies about the US, Russian intervention into American politics, the double standard in Washington and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). He spoke about building a wall in Mexico, cutting jobs while increasing the military, the lack of legislation from the White House and alternative facts that are unsupported by real math. The Congressman pointed out a problem “we don’t have enough Democrats”, the importance of voting and offered the Democrats’ path to a solution.
While many seem to be surprised about the actions of President Donald Trump, who Meeks would only refer to as “45”, he was not. During the primary Meeks pointed out that his Republican challengers “criticized him,” said Meeks. “They called him a con man, crazy and said he should not have access to the codes. We wait to see if he will change.” Despite Trump’s speech where he toned it down, Meeks cited Trump said the same kinds of things during the campaign. “People are nervous,” said Meeks.
-United States Allies are concerned.
Congressman Meeks is the ranking member of the subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats. In his role, he recently returned from Germany. “Our allies in Europe, the EU, Asia, NATO, they are all nervous,” he said. Allies are trying to understand “what is Congress’ position,” he said. This fear originates from the continued aggression from Russia.
-Russian influence in US election
President Trump has accused former President Obama of wiretapping during the election. Meeks debunked those allegations. A President cannot wiretap without a suspicion which would lead to acquiring a warrant. Intelligence leaders have denied the existence of any wiretapping.
Meeks conveyed that it is important to investigate any Russian influence in a US election. Russia has been known to attempt to influence other countries, at times through elections, as a means to separate and divide allies.
-Double Standard in Washington
Meeks discussed the double standard in Washington pointing out this recent wiretapping allegation. The US Committee on Oversight and Government(USCOG) said it will investigate the allegations made by Trump concerning wiretapping. This in spite of the fact that intelligence leaders have denied such actions. However, the committee has yet to start an investigation on Russia’s influence in the elections. It was recently revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with Russian representatives during the campaign. This was confirmed by Sessions as well as the Associated Press.
Session’s meeting with Russian representatives highlight another double standard. Sessions did not disclose his meetings with Russia during his confirmation hearings. Meeks reminded those present that former President Clinton was sent for impeachment due to lying (about his affair with an intern). A growing number of Republicans said Session should recuse but himself from any Russian investigation due to this lie.
-Affordable Care Act (ACA)
Republican constituents are concerned about the threat to repeal and replace ACA. Meeks reported that they rely on ACA especially in issues of pre-existing conditions. The ACA also took away the cap on benefits. Insurance companies can no longer cap their payments which individuals would then be responsible for covering. “20 million people benefit from it, they can’t get rid of it,” said Meeks. Meeks said that because the Congress voted 65 times to repeal ACA it would seem the Republicans had a plan. “I think I know what the plan is. They are going to repeal Obamacare and replace it with the affordable care act,” said Meeks as the room erupted in laughter.
-Building a Wall, Cutting Jobs and Increasing the Military
The President wants to build a wall at the US and Mexico border. “Mexico is not going to pay for it,” said Meeks. Meeks also said that the President wants to cut jobs and conversely increase the military. This was reminiscent of the years of transition between former presidents Clinton and Bush. The end of the Clinton years saw a balanced budget while the Bush years saw double digit unemployment. “We went to war under Bush. Seems like 45 wants to take us back,” said Meeks.
-Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) meeting with President
Recently the President made a symbolic shift of the HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) initiative from the Department of Education to the White House. That move did not come with an allocation of supportive funds. The photo of the event, and the subsequent anger of the HBCUs, have gone viral. Unlike that recent meeting, Meeks said the CBC currently has no plans to meet with the President. He mentioned the President faux pas of asking a reporter if they wanted to set up the meeting. “We are not going to meet and take a photo,” said Meeks. However, the CBC is willing to “talk and negotiate,” he said.
-Transportation, Infrastructure and the importance of math
There has been talk from the President about restoring America’s transporting and infrastructure systems. While Meeks is all for supporting such an initiatives, especially since his district is a critical destination, he is concerned about the math behind such an initiative. There are no longer earmarks in legislation. Meeks said “it’s not that easy folks”. Meeks laid out the scenario. “One trillion dollars for infrastructure plus $54 billion additional in defense spending with an additional $30 billion for the fence that Mexico is not going to pay for. A tax cut for the top 1% and major corporations. That is another $20-30 billion. Economist have asked. Where is the money coming from,” Meeks said. “If there is a cut to every domestic agency that provides services to the community, like HUD, EPA that still doesn’t provide enough money for funding,” he said. His concern was that then Republicans would look to cut Social Security and Medicaid.
-Millennials and the Importance of Voting
“Voting can have devastating consequences. It can negatively impact breathing and the water that we drink,” said Meeks referring to the current administration’s failure to believe in climate change. Meeks spoke about the importance of engaging and ensuring that millennials are tied into the democratic process. Meeks made the case that the millennial protest vote for a third party candidate in the Presidential election was the margin of defeat between Trump and Clinton.
He is also concerned about the upcoming Supreme Court nominations as this president could be responsible for appointing 2-3 judges to the court. He illustrated his point by pointing to the Emancipation Proclamation which although freed slaves was enforced by such cases as Plessy versus Ferguson and Dred Scott which lasted for over 100 years.
“Four years of 45 is not the issue. We can survive four years. The Supreme Court is for generations,” said Meeks.
The Congressman believes there are ways those types of votes and margins can be redirected.
-Solutions are in the Vote
The problem Meeks sees is that “there are not enough Democrats to pass our own bills or to block theirs,” he said.
-Mobilize and get ready for 2018.
When Obama took office, the tea party worked to take back the House and Senate. The Democratic Party is hoping for a similar take back for the upcoming elections. Meeks conceded that the “Democrats are not in a good state”. Out of 50 US governors, 18 are Democrats. They lost thousands of legislative seats on the state and federal levels. In addition, the upcoming 2020 census is important because “if we don’t win, that is where they cut political lines”. Those cuts will make it impossible for Democrats to succeed on a variety of initiatives.
“Look at the long game not the short game,” said Meeks. Other Districts need help electing Democrats, including New Jersey which he believed needs assistance in electing a Democratic Governor and the upcoming special election in Georgia. He is working with the CBC to analyze places where there are inroads. Places locally where the Hillary Clinton won by 3 or 4 percent, even though the overall electoral college vote turned Republican, he mentioned an effort to mobilize the Black and Latino votes in those areas.
-Come together with Conservatives
The Congressman held up a list of 20 names as possible candidates to fill Supreme Court seats. These are names he believes Conservatives would support. In addition, on cases of legislation, Democrats want to isolate places where the opposition is not together on an issue and see if there is room for leverage.
-Independent Commission to investigate Russia
Meeks believes the USCOG is political citing such evidence as the ongoing Benghazi effort against Hillary Clinton. He believes that a panel, akin to the one formed in wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack, is in order.
-Keep the Heat on 45
“Voices loud and clear,” said Meeks of what is needed. The President is threatening to reduce the budget of New York City due to its status as sanctuary city. As such, Meeks believes constituents need to keep the heat up. Meeks mentioned the recent ‘Unity in Diversity Rally’at Queens Borough Hall as evidence of a collective voice.
His final words, “don’t be sad and sit down. Stand in the way and fight”.