How the COVID-19 pandemic started its spread — and how much China knew about its beginnings — remains a top priority for U.S. Rep Jaime Herrera Beutler.
Investigating the pandemic is one of the first points the Republican Congresswoman from Battle Ground addressed during a telephone town hall she hosted on Aug. 17. Topics during the hourlong event ranged from the pandemic to concerns over immigration and wildfires, and also addressed the recent takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country.
Herrera Beutler said one of her top goals for the region is to get back to a “thriving normal” similar to where the region was during pre-pandemic times. She also wants to determine how the pandemic started. Herrera Beutler said she is working to investigate the causes of the pandemic and mentioned potential coverups by the Chinese government. She added a July Labor, Health, and Human Services appropriations bill included an amendment of hers that withholds taxpayer funding to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“I don’t want to see one cent of your tax money going (to the institute,)” Herrera Beutler said.
The Congresswoman also brought up the deletion of coronavirus genetic data from the National Institutes of Health database, much of which came from Chinese sources. She said the data was deleted at the request of a researcher from China. She said she was infuriated when she learned of what had transpired.
“To me, that’s like getting rid of evidence at a crime scene because the leading suspect told you to do it,” Herrera Beutler said.
She said she’d continue to push for a full investigation into the early stages of the pandemic, which includes determining how much Chinese authorities knew and/or covered up.
Herrera Beutler said she’s worked to speed up development and secure timely approval for a COVID-19 vaccine, adding she chose to get vaccinated given the amount of travel she does and because her daughter is immunosuppressed.
“There is, I believe, a massive amount of evidence that vaccines work,” Herrera Beutler said. She is, however, against mandating the vaccine, pointing to the vaccines’ lack of full approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Though she doesn't support firing employees who choose not to get vaccinated, she said she supports private businesses who require regular testing of individuals who aren’t inoculated.
“Shaming people or using a heavy-handed government approach has never worked. I don’t know why we think it would work here,” Herrera Beutler said.
Immigration and law enforcement
A few callers asked about Herrera Beutler’s efforts on immigration across the Mexico border, which the Congresswoman said is a growing problem this year. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol announced 212,000 apprehensions at the southern border in July alone, she said, the highest monthly count in 21 years. She added border patrol has already seized more fentanyl in 2021 than it did in the entirety of 2020.
She noted she made a request for Washington to send national guard troops to help Texas and Arizona with border issues, though she said she has not received a response.
Herrera Beutler also took issue with minors who are taken in at the border, who she said are sent across the country with little background of who will take them in. She said she has requested a Congressional investigation into how the federal government is handling immigration at the border.
“I think, honestly, the border agents are overwhelmed, the (health and human services) agency is overwhelmed,” Herrera Beutler said.
She pointed to the removal of policy put in place by the Trump administration requiring asylum seekers to remain in Mexico until their court date, which she said led to an “open season” for an influx of individuals crossing the border.
“Every major nation in the world has control over their largest borders,” Herrera Beutler said. “The United States should be no less.”
Since she came to Congress in 2011, Herrera Beutler said she’s backed opportunities to “completely overhaul” the immigration system, including building a border wall, creating a robust guest worker program, ending chain migration and enforcing expired visas.
“I will take just about any reasonable step (for reform) because this is not an impossible issue to fix. It’s been a political issue and I’d love to bring it out of the politics,” Herrera Beutler said. “We need and want people to come here and take part in the American dream, but I also think we can do that in a way that respects our laws, respects our borders and respects our process.”
Herrera Beutler also reaffirmed her support for law enforcement, mentioning the shooting death of Clark County Sheriff’s detective Jeremy Brown late last month.
“I really, truly believe that these men and women, just like you and I, are not perfect, but they really do represent the best among us, and we want to make sure that we support our law enforcement, so that they can keep our community safe in Southwest Washington,” Herrera Beutler said.
She said she’s heard from rank-and-file police from the region who “have never felt more underappreciated and demoralized.”
“One told me that morale had been at an all-time low among law enforcement and I am working to flip that script,” Herrera Beutler said.
She added she is in support of better training and “common-sense police reforms,” adding in July she helped get federal funding for the Vancouver Police Department for a body-worn camera program.
“We need to drop this insane notion that treating law enforcement like the enemy is going to make it safer, because it won’t,” Herrera Beutler said.
Salmon populations and addressing wildfires made up Herrera Beutler’s response to environmental issues in Congress. She brought up her work on protecting salmon by sponsoring legislation that allows for the removal of problem sea lions on the Columbia River. A few weeks prior, the Congresswoman secured close to $900,000 in a spending plan that’s moving through commerce to fund efforts to remove sea lions.
“I want my kids and my grandkids to know what it’s like to reel in their first salmon without losing half of it to one of these non-native predators,” Herrera Beutler said.
The Congresswoman said she’s been pressuring the U.S. Forest Service and the Biden administration to take the needs of firefighters seriously, mentioning she’s heard concerns from them about administrative issues like paperwork and pay.
She said federal firefighters were set to receive better pay in July, which she noted as the first step in ensuring crews will be fully staffed as this year’s fire season continues. Getting at the root of why wildfires are increasing is another goal. She said it is because of poor forest management practices at the federal level.
Herrera Beutler said she co-sponsored legislation to “push back on frivolous lawsuits filed by Portland and Seattle extremists that block any activity at all to make our forests more healthy,” allowing for mitigation efforts in the most fire-prone areas.
“Because of all that buildup and pent-up fuel, we are seeing fires burn hotter, faster and more catastrophic,” Herrera Beutler said.
She said there’s been very little movement on agreements made back during the Clinton administration on federal forest management due to the litigation the legislation she backs would address.
U.S. exit from Afghanistan
The Congresswoman also briefly addressed the U.S. exit from Afghanistan and the subsequent takeover by the Taliban, which was the subject of the sole poll question for callers. Two-thirds of respondents said the U.S. needed to leave the country, but noted the execution of the exit could have been better.
“I think we can all say seeing the Taliban overthrow Afghanistan in a matter of days is heartbreaking, it’s alarming, it’s difficult to watch,” Herrera Beutler said.
She expressed particular sympathy for women in the country who gained rights over the past two decades.
Herrera Beutler believes the U.S. needed to leave Afghanistan and said America shouldn’t be the “world police,” but noted the exit from the country was especially troubling given Biden’s experience with the situation.
“The administration better get their act together quickly, because there are thousands of people that we need to get out of Afghanistan and can’t even get to the airport,” Herrera Beutler said.
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