By Aila Boyd
aboyd@ourvalley.org

During his first town hall in Botetourt County since being sworn into the 116th Congress, Rep. Ben Cline, R-6th, discussed everything from his first 100 days as a United States congressman to gun control to the Mueller Report to bipartisanship to fiscal conservatism to immigration.

The town hall was held at VFW Post 1841 in Daleville last Friday afternoon.

It’s great to be in Botetourt,” Cline said.

Cline started off by noting that he is currently in the process of conducting town halls in all 19 counties and cities that comprise Virginia’s 6th Congressional Dstrict. Luckily, he said, he’s halfway through his first round of town halls. Meetings, such as the one he held, he explained, have been a staple throughout his 16 years in the House of Delegates. “We’re having them all over so that we can make sure we hear from the people about the issues that are important to them,” he said.

His first 100 or so days in Congress haven’t gone as smoothly as his town halls have, Cline said. He was a member of the first freshman class to enter Congress during a government shutdown, he noted. The shutdown he was referring to lasted for 35 days during the latter part of December 2018 and the majority of January 2019, making it the longest government shutdown in the nation’s history. The primary point of contention had to do with funding for a border wall along the southern border with Mexico.

The first 100 days have been an eyeopener, that’s for sure,” Cline said. “While they [Congress] have managed to get the government going again, they haven’t managed to do much else.”

He compared the way in which Washington, D.C. functions to how Richmond conducts business, stressing the fact that he views Richmond as being far more effective when it comes to matters of governance.

We got the job done,” Cline said of his time representing the 24th District in the House of Delegates. “After two months in Richmond, we balanced the budget, heard over 3,000 bills— 99 percent of the bills that were introduced got a hearing. We took care of business, then we went back to our families and our communities and our jobs, living under the laws that we passed.”

Cline describes the transition from being a state delegate to a United States congressman as being “frustrating.”

Now I’m in an upside-down world where Washington can’t balance a budget, kicks the can down the road, and spends more and more of your tax dollars and puts it off on the next generation to pay for,” he noted.

With that being said, he explained that he made a promise last year to go to Washington and uphold the principals that he ran on.

One of those principals is fiscal conservatism. “I reintroduced the four words that I feel have been missing from Washington a long time: ‘We can’t afford it.’ That’s the kind of straight talk that I promised I would deliver,” he said. “It means that not everybody is going to be able to have what they want from government. Quite frankly, you shouldn’t expect to get everything you want from government.”

He added that government should provide what the private sector can’t and then “get out of the way.” Oftentimes, he said, the government gets too involved in the private sector, whether it be through direct competition or regulations, and ends up interfering.

Cline then transitioned into discussing his committee appointments. He is currently serving as a member of the Judiciary and the Education and Labor Committees— two committees that he characterized as being “slightly contentious.” Bringing Democrats and Republicans together on the two committees has been “frustrating,” he reported.

We don’t have to agree all the time. I don’t agree with anybody all the time. We’re going to disagree, but the trick is to disagree without being disagreeable,” he said.

He explained that unlike in Richmond where all 100 members of the House of Delegates gather on the floor of the chamber and debate bills in front of each other, members of Congress simply give prepared five-minute long speeches that allow them to “talk past each other.”

Additionally, delegates dine together in Richmond, whereas congresspeople in Washington are segregated based on political affiliation— they have separate lounges and entrances.

In an attempt to introduce a degree of bipartisanship, Cline said that he regularly goes across the aisle and conducts what he calls “speed dating with Democrats.” While “speed dating,” he goes up to Democrats and says, “Hi, I’m Ben Cline. I represent the 6th District. Bob Goodlatte was my predecessor. I’m from the Shenandoah Valley. How about you?” He reported that sometimes he’ll get a “crazy look,” whereas other times the Democrat that he’s interacting with will respond positively. He added that he has met some “good people” through his “speed dating” method.

To date, he has introduced three pieces of legislation. One of them is law, one of them passed the House of Representatives, and the other one has just been introduced.

The bill that was passed made the George C. Marshall Museum in Lexington the national museum for George C. Marshall, which Cline noted will make the process for obtaining grants easier and bolster tourism to the facility.

The amendment that he introduced that has already passed in the lower chamber of Congress was attached to House Resolution 8-Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, a bill that he didn’t support. “It was an idea that developed when the bill was first in committee,” Cline explained. During a committee hearing with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, Cline questioned whether it would be helpful if they were notified of individuals who failed background checks while attempting to purchase a firearm due to their illegal immigration status. The officials said that it would, so Cline introduced an amendment to do so.

Ultimately, Cline’s amendment was ruled nongermane, meaning that it wasn’t relevant to the bill that was being considered. “It was frustrating, but the chairman has the majority and he makes the rules,” Cline said.

He eventually testified to the House Committee on Rules about whether his amendment should be offered. The committee ruled against the amendment, so it wasn’t offered on the floor.

Cline noted that his amendment had one last chance— a motion to recommit. Before a bill is voted on, the minority party gets one chance to send it back with instructions. The Republican leadership in the House decided to send the bill back with Cline’s amendment. Roughly 30 Democrats voted in favor of the bill, meaning that it passed the House. It is currently being considered by the Senate.

Cline later noted that “law-abiding citizens shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to exercise their Second Amendment right” in regard to the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019.

The third piece of legislation that he has introduced deals with the American Legion. The organization currently has to go through Congress to set its membership. Membership guidelines dictate that in order to join, one had to have served during a war that was authorized by Congress.

He noted that veterans of the Cold War and some of the conflicts in the Middle East want to join the American Legion, but aren’t able to due to eligibility requirements.

Along with Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif., Cline introduced a bill that says “if the American Legion decides that this is a conflict that they want to welcome members in from, then they should be able to do that.” The Senate also has a similar bill.

Aside from those three pieces of legislation, Cline has cosponsored roughly 50 other bills.

Other topics that Cline discussed during the town hall included immigration and the Mueller Report.

Cline said that he supports the National Emergency Concerning the Southern Border of the United States, a declaration that President Donald J. Trump made in February. “I’m optimistic that we can get a handle on it,” Cline, who is in favor of a border wall between the United States and Mexico, said in reference to illegal border crossings. He noted that the border poses issues concerning gangs, drugs, and sex trafficking.

In order to address the “humanitarian crisis” at the border, Cline said that the asylum process should be reformed. “We need to explain that you can’t get asylum just for being poor because every country is poorer than the United States,” he said. “Asylum is for people facing dangerous situations because of their race, ethnicity or war.”

Additionally, he said that Trump’s proposal to allow asylum seekers to do so in their home countries will “help alleviate the pressure at the border.”

As for the Mueller Report, a report documenting the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s efforts to intervene in the 2016 presidential election, Cline said that he believes the unredacted report should be made public. Sensitive information is all that should remain redacted, Cline said. Earlier, he voted in favor of making Mueller’s findings public.

Russia is not our friend, we all need to recognize that,” he said. “The first volume of the Mueller Report should lay bare to everyone just how much Russia is not our friend.”

He characterized Russia’s attack on elections a “real,” adding that actions need to be taken to ensure the sanctity of the country’s elections.

Those interested in Cline’s legislative decisions can sign up for his weekly newsletter at cline.house.gov.

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