WORTHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn visited Worthington Monday night as part of his 21-county tour of the Minnesota First Congressional District, explaining his job of a member of Congress, outlining his legislative priorities and answering questions from his constituents.
Many of the individuals asking questions opposed Hagedorn's policies and urged him to vote differently.
Hagedorn described the political environment in Washington as highly polarized.
"If you think it's like you see on TV, you're right," he said. "The Republicans and Democrats of Washington have deeply different philosophies of government, and there's a big divide on what to do for the American people. We have very strong views on both sides."
However, Hagedorn listed five issues "where we can all agree," and on which he called for bipartisan action.
The free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada that was negotiated last fall. The agreement will be sent to the legislature early next month for consideration. Hagedorn described the deal as "an upgrade from NAFTA" and said it is "supported by virtually everyone."
He thinks the only way the bill wouldn't pass is if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were to fail to put it to a vote. He also stated that if Washington cannot unite on this trade agreement, it's unlikely to make trade agreements with any other countries.
A transportation bill to update roads, bridges and dams across the country. "Usually in Washington, they can agree on spending more money," Hagedorn joked.
Lowering prescription drug prices. Although there was a bill presented on the House floor that would work toward that end, Hagedorn said it "is never going to become law" because it also contains protections for the Affordable Care Act.
Improving health insurance for preexisting conditions. Of his Democratic colleagues in the House, Hagedorn said, "They obviously don't want to solve the problem."
Securing the border. Hagedorn said he supports a change to asylum law that would require asylum seekers to apply for asylum in their home countries, or in the nearest safe-haven country they can reach.
"Unfortunately, we're not getting anywhere in a bipartisan fashion on the border," Hagedorn said., adding that other immigration reforms are impossible until the border is secure.
Hagedorn outlined his legislative priorities for the coming session. He emphasized strong national defense., noting that his philosophy is "peace through strength, just like the Reagan era."
"We're standing up against our adversaries and we're standing with our allies, like Israel and others," Hagedorn said of current foreign policy.
On health care, Hagedorn said, "I'm for patient-centered medical care with competition and transparency."
He also focuses on enforcing legal immigration, deregulating industry, tax reform for individuals, welfare reform and U.S. energy independence.
Hagedorn said he defends religious freedom and the right to bear arms.
"Those are the (rights) most under attack by the left," he said.
Lastly, he restated his goal to sustain rural life.
For the remainder of the town hall, residents were able to ask Hagedorn questions — many of which challenged Hagedorn's policies.
Given that two major shootings happened in the United States over the weekend, constituents wanted to know what Hagedorn planned to do about gun violence moving forward. He was asked if he condemned the shootings, which were fueled by white supremacy.
"I condemn all supremacy — white supremacy, black supremacy, Islamic supremacy, you go on down the list," he replied. "Of course I condemn it."
Hagedorn stressed that he does not support further regulations on firearms. He believes current laws are sufficient and that wrongdoers should be prosecuted.
It has been suggested that the CDC conduct a study to discover the root cause of gun violence in America in order to find a solution. Hagedorn said he would "probably not" support such an effort, but would be willing to look at a bill of that nature.
"It may not be a disease at all," he said. "It may just be evil."
"Good people acting responsibly make a difference."
Hagedorn noted that Minnesota is an example the rest of the country ought to follow. There is a record number of firearms and a record number of concealed carry permits in Minnesota, yet a 50-year low in violent crime statewide.
Although Hagedorn doesn't believe that more gun control is the answer to gun violence, he didn't offer an alternative solution.
"Nobody has ever suggested to me that they have a bill that's going to solve it," he said, when asked what he would do to stop the shootings.
Constituents wanted to hear Hagedorn's thoughts on trade with China, and the imposed tariffs in particular.
"China's tough," Hagedorn said. "They're tough characters to deal with, no doubt about that."
He explained that China is guilty of manipulating currency, theft of intellectual property and dumping steel and quartz — and that behavior has to be stopped. Hagedorn maintained that the key to a good trade relationship with China is passing the Mexico-Canada Agreement, which would prove that the United States can have better trade deals.
He also noted that Trump is not the only party responsible for disagreements about trade.
"It's China's trade war, too," he said. "China's the actor that has been abusing this country for 20 years."
Some folks present wondered how Hagedorn can claim to be interested in protecting the "rural way of life," yet vote against policies that would support the immigrants that provide a significant amount of farm labor.
"I don't think they're at odds at all," Hagedorn said. He emphasized that he isn't against immigration, but against illegal immigration.
Some members of the crowd pressed Hagedorn to consider a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the United States.
"I will never vote for amnesty," he asserted. "The people who brought people here unlawfully cannot turn around and become citizens on their kids' petition. "
Hagedorn expressed pleasure at the fact that the United States is home to 60 million people born in other nations.
"All we ask in return, he said, "is assimilation and that people do it the right way."
Town hall attendees were concerned about the rising costs of pharmaceutical drugs, and insulin in particular. Hagedorn agreed that action needs to taken to lower prices.
"One of my ideas, is that — maybe it sounds a little bit liberal — at the federal level, I think the federal government should go in and contract with drug companies" to make drugs at a lower cost for the American people.
Although he does support health care reform, Hagedorn clarified, "I don't want to go single-payer. I don't want to go Medicare for All. That is going to destroy the best medical care in the world."
However, when it comes to veterans' health care, Hagedorn deviates from the party line.
"This is the most liberal position you'll ever hear me take," he said. "Veterans should be able to choose their doctors and hospitals and have the government pay for it." He believes this option should also apply to mental health.
Support for Trump
Some constituents wanted to know why Hagedorn continues to support Trump despite what one deemed the president's "hostile rhetoric" and history of lying.
"The president is offering a vision for the country," Hagedorn explained. "He campaigned on many of the same issues I campaigned on, so the reason I wanted to go to Washington was to try to help him and other like-minded folks to get our policies through and form a coalition."
When pressed on how he can support Trump even though he routinely lies to the American people, Hagedorn responded, "The biggest lie I've ever heard in politics was this one: 'If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your plan, keep your plan, and you'll save $2,500 a year.' That affected people."