An August town hall had a very November feel Monday as U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers addressed a crowd that included her election opponent and struck an optimistic tone on many of the major issues facing Congress.
“I recognize that we, in Congress, have not been able on some of the big issues – there was ‘the grand bargain,’ which I believe needs to happen – to get the job done,” said the chair of the House Republican Caucus, referring to the failed ploy to get the GOP and Democrats on board with a spending plan that would reduce the national debt. “I think everyone has played a role in that, Republicans and Democrats.”
McMorris Rodgers addressed a crowd at the Lincoln Center of about 200 people, many of whom had waved signs calling for the congresswoman’s ouster in the parking lot beforehand. Demonstrators supporting Joe Pakootas, the Democrat vying to replace McMorris Rodgers, outnumbered those holding signs in favor of the GOP incumbent about two-to-one prior to the annual town hall event, despite her easy victory in this month’s primary.
Inside the event center, McMorris Rodgers largely avoided discussion of President Barack Obama’s health care law, a topic that has historically drawn the most vocal response from the partisan crowds at past events. While she advocated repeal of the Affordable Care Act at an event one year ago, her comments Monday reflected a desire to work with other lawmakers to incrementally change the law she told The Spokesman-Review earlier this year was unlikely to be repealed.
“The House has taken action to delay the individual mandate, to delay the employer mandate, to repeal the 30-hour workweek provision, and there’s some others,” McMorris Rodgers said. “I think you’re going to continue to see – the law’s been on the books for four years now, and we’re seeing where there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.”
McMorris Rodgers said she was optimistic the political parties could work together to change the law that she sees as burdensome on individual choice. But her opponent, Pakootas, said after the meeting ended that the people had already spoken and attempts to change or repeal the law ignored their wishes.
“It doesn’t resonate with voters at all,” Pakootas said, adding “as long as the Affordable Care Act is in place, I don’t think she’s going to be representative of the people.”
At least two questions addressed the coming campaign, with attendees picked at random via a raffle asking if McMorris Rodgers would agree to debates in all counties of the district and about mailers arriving in the district paid for with taxpayer dollars.
McMorris Rodgers said three debates were planned between her and Pakootas, and that there would be ample opportunity to learn about the candidates from them. She said the mailers were sent to keep constituents informed of her work in the district.
“I do believe that part of communicating with the people I represent is sending out the mailings, so they know what I’ve been working on and what my priorities are,” she said.
Stella McDonald, who asked the question about the mailing, was concerned about the timing of their arrival and her ability to send communiqués at taxpayers’ expense, a privilege not afforded her opponent.
“It just isn’t fair,” McDonald said.
A reoccurring policy question Monday was whether McMorris Rodgers would support proposed Department of Transportation rules governing the transport of crude oil across the state. McMorris Rodgers said she needs more time to study it.
“It’s important to recognize that this is a national policy,” McMorris Rodgers said. “And it’s important that I do my homework, and make sure I understand exactly what the impact of this legislation is going to be.”
The smattering of demonstrators who waved at passing cars before the event started Monday gave the proceedings an Election Day feel, though voters won’t weigh in on the race for another three months.
One of the demonstrators, Sue Luppert, held a sign imploring women to remember McMorris Rodgers’ voting record in November.
“She’s just not for women,” said Luppert, citing votes by the congresswoman against legislation that extended the period of time an employee could sue an employer over alleged fair pay violations and support of a version of the Violence Against Women Act that did not include certain protections for Native American women and same-sex couples.
Standing across the street from the Pakootas supporters, who let out a whoop when the Colville Tribe CEO arrived, Louise Lamp vigorously waved a McMorris Rodgers sign at passing cars.
“Cathy’s the best,” she said, then gestured across the street. “Until they can come up with something better, it should be Cathy.”
The congresswoman took a little more than a dozen questions from the crowd during the hourlong session. She then recognized Rudy Lopez, veterans cemetery director for the Washington State Veterans Cemetery, for his work at the facility in Medical Lake.