PORT ANGELES — Many who attended U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer’s town hall meeting at Peninsula College expressed frustration with a congressional lack of action on any front.
The Gig Harbor Democrat told the approximately 50 people who attended Wednesday evening’s town hall that there are many bills with bipartisan support that would pass if Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would allow the House to vote.
“There’s issue after issue in which that’s the case and I think, frankly, this is why people hate Congress,” the Port Angeles native said. “This is why Congress has an approval rating below head lice and colonoscopies.”
Kilmer stopped short of blaming Ryan for Congress’ inaction, but said there are problems in Congress that make it difficult to pass bills.
Kilmer, who said in a separate interview Wednesday he intends to run for re-election to his seat representing the 6th Congressional District — which includes the North Olympic Peninsula — said among the bills with bipartisan support are ones that would address gun violence.
This includes a Republican bill to ban bump stocks — which were used in the mass shooting in Las Vegas — and a bill that would prevent people who are on the federal terrorist no-fly list from purchasing guns.
“There are a number of things you can do that don’t violate someone’s Second Amendment right … that could actually benefit public safety,” Kilmer said. “I can’t count the moments of silence Congress has had, but it’s had very few moments of action on this issue.”
I joined an enthusiastic group of students at @pencollege this evening to talk about what’s on their minds. Thanks for spending time with me—and keep those questions coming! pic.twitter.com/EmCPm3I2wy
— Rep. Derek Kilmer (@RepDerekKilmer) April 5, 2018
Kilmer said Ryan appears to be following an unofficial rule that prohibits him from allowing votes on bills that aren’t supported by the majority of Republicans, even if the bill would pass.
“I don’t think it’s my role to impugn the motives of the folks I work with,” Kilmer said. “People can come to their own conclusions as to why.”
On March 24, the same day as the March for Our Lives events across the country and the one month anniversary of the shooting in Parkland, Fla., the House passed the STOP School Violence Act, which would boost school efforts to develop violence prevention programs and coordinate with law enforcement to improve school safety.
It would create a grant program to train students, teachers, school officials and local law enforcement how to identify and intervene early when signs of violence arise and create a coordinated reporting system when threatening signs are noticed.
Kilmer, who helped introduce the bill prior to the shooting, said there is still more work to be done.
Kilmer said he does not support arming teachers and that he supports a bill that would prohibit the future sale of “weapons that were made largely for mass carnage,” a bill he said would apply to AR-15s.
“The Speaker of the House told the students from Parkland that bill won’t get a vote,” Kilmer said. “He hasn’t been that explicit about some of the other proposals, but he has said to them that bill won’t get a vote.”
He said this is part of the dysfunction of Congress that has many citizens across the country frustrated with Congress, a problem he said he has been trying to fix during his five years in the House.
With hopes of addressing Congress’ continued inability to pass a budget on time, Kilmer joined the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform, he said.
He said the committee met for the first time in recent weeks and agreed something needs to be done to “stop the chaos.”
“When there are government shutdowns, the national park closes and that hurts local business,” he said. “There are substantial ramifications when you have this level of dysfunction.”
He said currently the budgeting process is purely a political process. He said the committee should have a report in November that the House would then vote on.
Some who attended the town hall asked Kilmer what ordinary people can do to make a difference when Congress is so dysfunctional.
One woman said she is discouraged when she always hears about partisanship in Congress. She said she wants bipartisan solutions, but fears the only way to improve Congress is by voting out the majority and getting new representatives.
“I try to encourage people: don’t agonize, organize,” he said.
Kilmer encouraged people to reach out to their friends who live in other districts and have them reach out to their representatives. He said as a representative, he puts more weight on calls from his constituents than he does on calls from other districts.
Kilmer said Congress continues to fail to address immigration and the deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, despite broad support by citizens and representatives for solutions for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children.
Kilmer is a sponsor of the Clean Dream Act and the USA Act, two bills that address immigration. Kilmer feels if the House is allowed to vote on the USA Act, it would pass.
“Speaker Ryan hasn’t allowed a vote on anything,” he said. “We have literally not had a vote on any solution for dreamers.”
Kilmer said the shame is that the majority of Americans, Democrats and Republicans all agree there should be a solution for the “dreamers” who came to the United States as children.
“These are young people who came here through no choice of their own, no fault of their own,” he said. “It’s an enormous shame that these young people are being threatened with deportation because Congress isn’t doing its job and because the Trump administration has made a choice to end this program.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].