Ensnarled in an impeachment probe over his request for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, President Donald Trump is now calling on another nation to do the same: China. There is no evidence of any wrongdoing by the Bidens. (Oct. 3)
ALLENTOWN, Penn. – Rep. Susan Wild was prepared for the criticism on Wednesday evening.
She’d come to Muhlenberg College ready to defend why Democrats in the House of Representatives were moving forward on an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.
It was her first town hall since announcing that she, a freshmen Democrat who beat a Republican in a swing state in 2018, also supported the historic move put in motion by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in late September. The forum would offer a peek into how the ruckus in Washington was playing out at home.
But over about 90 minutes in a packed room full of hundreds of people, so many that officials had to bring in more chairs, impeachment was only raised a handful of times. Instead, people in this eastern Pennsylvania city wanted to know about bread-and-butter issues like health care and education and weren’t preoccupied with the hysterics surrounding the quickly moving impeachment probe.
“I didn’t come to Congress to pursue an impeachment inquiry,” she told the hundreds who attended the town hall. “It was the last thing in the world that I wanted.”
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From a stage flanked by Pennsylvania and American flags, Wild asked those in the audience to line up if they had any questions or concerns. One by one, they appeared at microphones on both sides of the event hall, but missing from their comments was the topic that was leading most newspapers and cable news.
“Do you believe that there should be a profit motive in health care, and if not, then we need to work toward Medicare for All,” the first constituent at the microphone asked, also noting Wild’s work on mental health after the recent death of her partner by suicide.
The second, a young woman, approached the microphone: “Have you changed your position on the Green New Deal? Will you please sign on to co-sponsor” the legislation, she asked, raising the climate change resolution posed by fellow freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a prominent New York progressive.
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Of the 31 questions she took from constituents throughout the evening, impeachment came up just a few times. Only two people stood up to criticize her or Democrats for launching the inquiry, which started after a whistleblower charged that Trump used his office to go after a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
It wasn’t until about 20 minutes into the event that someone brought up the issue. That person argued a majority of Americans don’t support removing Trump from office and that the inquiry would prevent Congress from being able to solve problems and work together.
“I just want to make a point that there is another way,” one man told Wild. “I did admire when you said you did several, a few collaborative bills, bipartisan. Just don’t hear much about that anymore, and I think more Americans would be happy to hear more of that and less of the accusation du jour.” The crowd booed.
House Democrats have been trying to stress they haven’t lost sight of issues important to their constituents, even as they attempt to explain the inquiry to voters in their districts. Republicans want to sell Democrats as so hell-bent on impeaching Trump that they’ve abandoning kitchen-table issues.
To those who criticized her, Wild argued that impeachment would not be a distraction from the issues that got her elected. She pointed to her work on the Education and Labor committee and legislation aimed at lowering prescription drug prices.
But some backed Wild’s call for an inquiry – and took it a step further.
“Why can’t the House hold those who refuse to cooperate in contempt, find them, and put them in jail?” one woman asked Wild as the crowd cheered. Wild pushed back, explaining that Congress’ job was to investigate, not to jail or take the place of judges and juries. She also swatted away comments from another constituent who called the president “crazy,” saying she would not talk about the president’s state of mind.
“I hope that it is expeditious and I hope that we get it done,” Wild said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made an effort at drawing attention away from impeachment this week during a news conference. She declined to answer questions about impeachment without first discussing the proposed new North American trade deal and legislation that aims to lower prescription drug prices.
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“Does anybody in this room care about the cost of prescription drugs and what it means to America’s working families?” Pelosi asked reporters.
Wild is one of many House Democrats in moderate districts who faced voters after months of resisting efforts to embrace impeachment by the progressive faction in the caucus.
But the mostly friendly crowd Wednesday evening was much more focused on issues like the status of schools in the area, health care and climate change. Such issues resonate in the purple 7th Congressional District, which encompasses everything from Allentown — one of cities with the highest populations in the state — to rural areas where cornfields, country homes and tractors are common.
Wild, a former attorney, captured a seat formerly held by Republican Rep. Charlie Dent in 2018 by eight points, but she is a top target of Republicans in the state in 2020.
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She defended herself when questions came up about whether the impeachment inquiry could negatively affect her in the next election. She acknowledged that Republicans would likely target her as they have already Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright, who represents the district neighboring Wild. Ads have criticized Cartwright of backing “a radical scheme to impeach President Trump.”
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“I believe that I will be reelected because of the work I’ve done for the people in this district,” Wild said, “not because I went one way or the other on an impeachment inquiry.”
The political layout of Wild’s district displays the vacillations of swing districts. Her district includes Northampton County, one of the three counties in Pennsylvania that voted for former President Barack Obama and then flipped for Trump in 2016. Persuading voters in counties like Northampton could be key for both Democrats and Republicans in deciding both Wild’s political future and who controls the White House in 2020. Pennsylvania is one of five swing states that has been rated a toss-up by the Cook Political Report.
Large shopping centers are sprinkled throughout Northampton County, as are rural areas featuring acres of corn, wheat and soybeans, along with farm animals and inviting country homes. The county is also home to several colleges and businesses that range from industrial plants to small coffee shops frequented by millennials.
Outside a grocery store in Forks Township — a community of about 15,000 people — voters said they felt torn by the constant investigations and the president’s conduct. While some felt worried by the president’s actions, others put the blame on Democrats.
Bridget Colman says she would rather hear about what’s being done to better health care and has gotten so fed up with the news that she doesn’t watch anymore.
“It’s like every time I turn it on I get angry. My blood boils for what?” she asked, noting she did not vote for Trump in 2016. “I can’t do anything but just watch this circus.”
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Others like Dawn Dobrosky noted she wasn’t “a fan” of Trump but felt as though Democrats were picking on him.
“It’s like they won’t give him a break,” she said while loading groceries in her car.
Dobrosky, who says she wrote in a candidate instead of voting for Hillary Clinton or Trump in 2016, said she is still undecided on a candidate in 2020.
“It’s just constant,” she said of the fighting, adding that she would rather hear about education and health care instead of impeachment. “They seem to want to keep him under a microscope.”
Like Dobrosky and Colman, others were in agreement that impeaching the president wasn’t the issue that was most important to them.
As Mike Gerbasio and his wife, Cindi Hopkins, got seated in the back of the large event hall at Muhlenberg College — their first time at one of Wild’s town halls — both mentioned a variety of topics they wanted Wild to discuss.
“I just want to hear what she stands for and what she’s been working on,” Gerbasio said. “I know everyone in Washington has a tough job and I want to listen and hear what she is doing for us.”
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