Hawaii Tribune Herald - - FRONT PAGE - By IVY ASHE

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz em­pha­sized his com­mit­ment to re­sist­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s agenda while work­ing to­ward the “sweet spot” of bi­par­ti­san­ship dur­ing a town hall meet­ing Tues­day at the Univer­sity of Hawaii at Hilo.

The meet­ing was one of two hosted by Hawaii’s Wash­ing­ton del­e­ga­tion. U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gab­bard spoke dur­ing an evening event.

More than 350 peo­ple at­tended Schatz’s town hall, with the Demo­cratic sen­a­tor tak­ing ques­tions from the au­di­ence for an hour and a half.

“We’re in in­cred­i­bly chal­leng­ing times,” Schatz said. “We’ve all been kind of try­ing to fig­ure out what is our new role as cit­i­zens.”

The “un­prece­dented cit­i­zen en­gage­ment” re­gard­ing Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­ders and Cabi­net nom­i­nees was “re­ally ex­tra­or­di­nary,” Schatz said. “And the one thing I’ll tell you is it gave me strength, it gave me mo­ti­va­tion.”

Schatz is chief deputy whip and a mem­ber of four Se­nate com­mit­tees: Ap­pro­pri­a­tions; In­dian Af­fairs; Bank­ing, Hous­ing and Ur­ban Af­fairs;

and Com­merce, Science and Trans­porta­tion.

Most ques­tions fo­cused on do­mes­tic pol­icy, with con­stituents ask­ing Schatz to weigh in on Trump’s pro­posed bud­get, net neu­tral­ity, LGBT rights, Planned Par­ent­hood, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions and Supreme Court Jus­tice Neil Gor­such.

The lone Hawaii Is­land-spe­cific ques­tion cen­tered on reg­u­la­tion of he­li­copter noise. Schatz said his staff has been work­ing with state rep­re­sen­ta­tives to try to come up with an ac­tion plan and that the mat­ter was a pri­or­ity.

“I will fol­low up; I just don’t want to pre­tend I have a ready an­swer, when I don’t,” he said.

Re­gard­ing do­mes­tic mat­ters, Schatz ap­peared op­ti­mistic about Democrats’ abil­ity to work on smaller bi­par­ti­san ini­tia­tives, such as in­creas­ing ru­ral broad­band and se­cur­ing Medi­care re­im­burse­ment for telemedicine, while “fight­ing like cats and dogs about the big stuff.”

“We are go­ing to lose more than we win, but we have won a heck of a lot more than I thought at this point,” he said.

In the wake of Repub­li­cans pulling their health care leg­is­la­tion af­ter push­back from con­stituents, the ma­jor­ity party “re­cal­i­brate(d) their ap­petite for po­lit­i­cal risk,” Schatz said. “The thing I think is ex­cit­ing is you see how mo­men­tum breeds mo­men­tum. The fail­ure of Trump­care im­pacts the way they deal with the next thing.”

He as­sured at­ten­dees he would con­tinue to seek fund­ing for cli­mate re­search and fam­ily plan­ning, and that Democrats would keep of­fi­cials such as En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt ac­count­able to en­vi­ron­men­tal laws such as the Clean Water Act.

“He (Pruitt) is duty bound to fol­low those laws,” Schatz said. “He can­not de­fund the EPA with­out our ac­qui­es­cence.”

Schatz dis­cussed Trump’s for­eign pol­icy twice, de­scrib­ing it as “en­tirely un­pre­dictable and reck­less,” as he an­swered ques­tions about North Korea and Syria.

Re­gard­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of war with North Korea, Schatz said he re­ceived clas­si­fied brief­ings on the mat­ter and could not give a full over­view, but that “you should let me do the wor­ry­ing, and I don’t think it should worry you ev­ery morn­ing.”

“There isn’t zero risk, but it’s not the kind of thing you should be wring­ing your hands over,” he said. “On the war fight­ing plans, we have them, but they’re aw­ful not just for us, but for our al­lies in the re­gion and our friends in South Korea. … Re­gard­ing mis­siles, I’ll just say that we’re do­ing ev­ery­thing that can be done.

“This is a very dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion, but it is prob­a­bly not as bad as it looked on Fri­day night (when North Korea was pre­par­ing to test a mis­sile).”

On Syria, Schatz said he thought the pres­i­dent over­stepped his ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers in or­der­ing Tom­a­hawk mis­sile strikes two weeks ago, and added, to a round of ap­plause, that “Congress has to re­assert its au­thor­ity to de­clare war.”

“Let me start with this: We should not have any lack of clar­ity about who (Syria’s Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad) is, about how un­usu­ally mur­der­ous he is, about how out­side of the norm, even for a bru­tal dic­ta­tor,” he said. “I be­lieve there should be a post-As­sad Syria. I do not be­lieve the U.S. mil­i­tary is go­ing to be able to pre­cip­i­tate that hap­pen­ing, at least not in any way that would make the sit­u­a­tion (worse).

“As­sad is an aw­ful man, I want to be as clear as I can about that, but at­tack­ing a gov­ern­ment re­quires a new AUMF (Autho­riza­tion for Use of Mil­i­tary Force).”

El­iz­a­beth Miller of Vol­cano said she thought the event was ed­u­ca­tional, par­tic­u­larly on less head­line-grab­bing top­ics such as net neu­tral­ity, but would have liked more in­sight into the most ef­fec­tive ways of build­ing grass-roots coali­tions.

“I was an ac­tivist in the ’60s,” Miller said. “I have not been this mo­ti­vated to be ac­tive since then.”


IVY ASHE/Tri­bune-Her­ald

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz speaks dur­ing a town hall meet­ing Tues­day at the Univer­sity of Hawaii at Hilo.

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