STUARTS DRAFT — Ben Cline spent the better part of two hours Tuesday afternoon speaking to constituents and answering questions on a wide range of topics from the nearly 100 people packed into VFW Post 9339.
The big national issues of the day — Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the 2016 presidential election, the immigration crisis at the southern border, gun control and health care — dominated much of the discussion.
But issues closer to home and often personal — fixing Interstate 81 and helping veterans deal with federal red tape while seeking medical treatment — also resonated with the crowd inside the Stuarts Draft Veterans of Foreign Wars hall.
Cline, a Lexington Republican, marked his first sixth months representing Virginia’s 6th Congressional District on July 3. The longtime delegate began by briefly giving an overview of the differences between the seats of state and federal governments.
“People call it a swamp, I call it a circus because it’s a show and a lot of people are playing for the show instead of trying to get things done,” he said of Washington, D.C, noting what he deemed the political showboating of certain members of Congress “when the cameras are on.”
In Richmond, Cline said, he only had to become acquainted with the other 99 members of the House of Delegates. In the U.S. House of Representatives, he has the names of 434 members to learn, which he admitted he had yet to do.
“Some of whom are so busy in the news and on Twitter that their names are pretty clear to me. I even know their initials,” a not-so-veiled reference to first-term New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, popularly known as AOC.
Cline, whose 6th District stretches from Shenandoah County in the north to the Roanoke Valley in the south, went beyond the scheduled 90 minutes for the town hall to answer every question from the audience. To date, the freshman congressman said he has held town halls in 12 of the district’s 19 localities, a stark difference from his predecessor, Bob Goodlatte.
Goodlatte, who retired from the seat in 2018 after serving 13 terms, held few town hall sessions during his 26 years in Congress and none in his last two years in office, which became a flashpoint for his opponents.
While the audience, which included Augusta County Supervisors Pam Carter and Mike Shull, was generally a friendly one for the conservative Valley lawmaker to address, several speakers made clear through questions and statements their disapproval of the current administration of President Donald Trump and of Cline’s stance on a host of issues.
No questions were more pointed than those about the investigation led by Mueller and his subsequent report on possible collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russian interference in that election.
Cline, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said he believes most people in the country are ready to move on, with a need to address many of the pressing issues facing the nation. Cline, when asked if we would support an impeachment inquiry of Trump, said he would not and believes it would be a mistake on the part of the Democratic majority in the House if they chose to do so.
But, he said, Democrats led by the Judiciary Committee’s chairman, Jerry Nadler of New York, are trying to “acheive impeachment without holding an impeachment hearing.”
Cline emphatically agreed that Russia did interfere in U.S. elections, as well in the elections of other nations.
“Russia is not our friend,” he said, adding that American foreign policy toward Russia and other nations, including China, should reflect that. “We have to have a realistic foreign policy that confronts aggression.”
On questions about immigration, in particular the policy that separated children from family members at the border, Cline agreed that it was a broken system and that it has constituted a humanitarian crisis. That crisis, he said, had been prolonged due to political posturing on the part of the Democrats who “mocked the president when he called it an emergency” earlier this year.
With last month’s approval of a $4.6 billion funding package to address the issues at the border, Cline said he is hopeful changes will come quickly to a system that had been overwhelmed by a flood of migrants, including children.
One area he said he wants to address is a disparity in how the legal system treats children and adults entering the country illegally or seeking asylum. Children, he said, must be released from detention centers more quickly than adults, meaning they are sent to social services, separating them from their families. That, he said, should stop.
On gun control, Cline, declaring his support of Second Amendment rights, said he opposes any federal ban on assualt weapons or bump stocks.
“I do not believe curbs on the sale of firearms do not stop gun violence,” he said, saying the problem is a societal one that must be addressed in the home and in schools, an answer the questioner clearly disgareed with.
On funding for I-81, Cline said it’s unlikely Congress will pass an infrastructure bill the administration will support this session. He has more hope that the House leadership might back earmarking dollars for the interstate as high-priorty project in the 6-year transportion bill, although Congress ended that practice about 20 years ago.