QUILCENE — U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer fielded questions — and political statements — from people who attended his town hall meeting in Quilcene, where he tackled immigration, the southern border, the partial government shutdown and mental health of elected officials.
The Gig Harbor Democrat made it clear to the more than 60 people who attended Friday evening at the Quilcene School that he believes shutting the government down over any policy issue, including the recent 35-day shutdown over President Donald Trump’s desire to build a border wall, is “dumb” and “stupid.”
When asked by a man — whose son is a Border Patrol agent on the southern border — about whether the government will shut down again, Kilmer responded with a phrase he has been using frequently in recent months: “The crystal ball is a little bit fuzzy.”
The shutdown ended when Trump signed a bill Jan. 25 reopening the government for three weeks. If another deal isn’t reached by Friday, Feb. 15, the government will shut down again.
The impacts of the shutdown were felt along the North Olympic Peninsula, where government employees filed for unemployment and active duty members of the U.S. Coast Guard went to food banks.
Kilmer said that “odds are better than not” that House Democrats and Senate Republicans will come to an agreement on border security, but whether the president will approve of the deal is a different matter.
“I do not think you will see a wall from sea to shining sea, so it begs the question, will the president sign that?” Kilmer said. “I don’t know. I think he should and I think it’s wrong to shut down the government over any single policy issue, period.”
Kilmer told the group that he supports the bipartisan USA Act, which would address border security and provide stability for Dreamers.
He said the bill would increase the number of immigration judges, meaning asylum seekers would then be able to have an expeditious hearing.
It also creates a pathway to permanent legal status for Dreamers.
Kilmer said he disagrees with the administration and Republicans about people seeking asylum. He said the Senate recently pushed for a cap on the number of people granted asylum in the United Sates, something he disagrees with.
“To me that is not consistent with our values as Americans,” he said.
Kilmer recalled when he spoke to 22 women who were held at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma who had their children taken away from them.
One of the women, he said, was fleeing from her town in Guatemala that had been overrun by cartels and gangs. He said the woman mostly walked to the southern border and presented herself as an asylum seeker.
One woman spoke of mental health professionals who have expressed concern about Trump’s mental health and are calling for a mental health exam for key elected officials. She asked Kilmer how he felt such a measure would play out.
“I don’t see that as something that would have a lot of traction in this Congress, to be honest with you,” Kilmer said. “Maybe more in the House than the Senate, but it probably wouldn’t get signed by the president — I’m just guessing.”
Kilmer said the topic is challenging on a policy level.
“That’s not to say I don’t have a lot of disagreements with this administration … but to some degree you have in place a requirement and an expectation that the president regularly sees a physician,” Kilmer said.
Kilmer said that more broadly he has been surprised by how big of an issue mental health is in the United States and how many people are affected.
He said mental health services are inadequate and the issue comes up frequently.
“In most counties I represent the largest provider of mental health services is the county jail,” Kilmer said. “That’s not the place to address mental health or substance abuse issues, but it is the place counties do.”
Kilmer said he is working to figure out how the federal government can step up to help with mental health issues, though not the specific issue the woman asked about.
Port Angeles event
Kilmer also held a town hall meeting Saturday in Port Angeles on the Peninsula College campus.
Several residents there spoke of their support for breaching four lower Snake River dams in southern Washington state to allow a free-flowing river and more chinook salmon for endangered Southern Residents orcas, which now number only 74 individuals.
They asked Kilmer why he favored continuing study instead of acting now.
“You want actions to be based on the best available science,” Kilmer said. “It’s not a fast process.”
He said “that wasn’t to suggest that the federal government shouldn’t be taking action” just that “it’s important to allow the process to be driven by science, not politics.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].
Executive Editor Leah Leach contributed to this report.