In his 86th town hall event since first being elected to Congress four years ago, U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier spoke at Charlotte Wood Middle School in Danville on Thursday night, where several hundred residents listened to the longtime public servant speak about the pressing issues affecting the nation.
Rep. DeSaulnier (D-Concord) spent nearly two hours talking about his efforts to represent California's 11th Congressional District and answering questions from the public on a variety of topics -- the most common topics covered were issues related to immigration, gun control legislation and the question of impeachment procedures.
Throughout the evening, DeSaulnier called for unity and collaboration among residents, and challenged attendees to not fear participation in rational debates, telling the crowd “remember we are all Americans.”
“The Congress is very reflective in some ways of the differences in this country right now. When I’m back with my colleagues I establish friendships … We tease ourselves with (them) being really conservative and me being really liberal, but this is how the institution should work,” he said. “People can have differences of opinion, debate them out honestly, fiercely and you come up with a work product. Unfortunately right now on big issues, it's too polarized.”
One of these polarizing issues that took center stage on Thursday was immigration. Attendees asked questions on whether and how the congressman was working to prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids and services for people who are at risk of deportation.
“There is an answer to this question but we’ve created an atmosphere where it is hard for people to compromise on immigration,” DeSaulnier said. “(Immigrants) are contributing to our economy, if we have a rational conversation we would admit that it’s good. With 3% unemployment we need immigration now just like we needed workers during the industrial revolution.”
DeSaulnier argued that many benefits come with immigration, stating that in 2016 immigrants added about $2 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP).
While he supports the needs of immigrants in the U.S., DeSaulnier stated that some limitations are necessary and took some time to clean up some misconceptions on his own immigration policies.
“I am not for open borders,” he said. “I’ve had a gentleman come see me in my office earlier this week and I think he was surprised when I said I don't know anyone who is for open borders. We live in an era of nation states and you have to have a rational immigration policy."
He added that residents who are involved in cases involving ICE are encouraged to contact his district office at 933-2660, and staff can provide information to try and help resolve any issues.
With the recent mass shooting in Gilroy, Dayton Ohio, and El Paso, Texas gun control legislation was another popular topic of conversation, with Rep. DeSaulnier calling gun violence “a public health issue” and one of his top priorities.
DeSaulnier explained that since taking office, he has authored bills aimed to enact commonsense standards for safe storage of federal law enforcement weapons, requiring gun owners to immediately report stolen or lost weapons, and is currently drafting a bill to establish a Gun Safety Board, which would search for ways to reduce gun violence.
“I personally think we have way too many guns and guns that are accessible to people who shouldn’t have them,” he said, adding that state and local government agencies should champion gun control legislation. “The Supreme Court (has) consistently said that local and state governments can do reasonable gun violence prevention laws and I think that is what we should do.”
The third most talked about topic at DeSaulnier’s town hall revolved around the question of whether to pursue impeachment of President Donald Trump.
DeSaulnier said he personally supports impeachment proceedings, but actually completing the process would be a long uphill battle, saying: “If you go through the impeachment process, it is not going to happen overnight and most likely he won't get convicted in the Senate.”
Explaining the complexities of impeachment process, DeSaulnier said that supporting procedures means holding hearings on whether or not an individual in question should be indicted on certain charges, and reserving the right to make up his mind after hearings have been completed.
He added that without public support impeachment won’t be possible: “Lincoln said ‘with public sentiment everything is possible, without it no law or statute has real force,’ and that’s one of the challenges of governing.”
After the event ended, DeSaulnier stuck around to meet with attendees face to face, answering questions and taking a couple of photos.
"The reason I do (town hall events) is because I enjoy them and people feel empowered," DeSaulnier told DanvilleSanRamon.com. "My own sense is that because of how people get information today, there's a real yearning for just human to human contact ... And when your speaking in front of a room of 600 of 700 people you get a response."
Earlier in the day, DeSaulnier held a press conference at San Francisco International Airport, where he announced the introduction of the “Safe Landings Act” (HR 4166), to address near-miss aircraft incidents like the Air Canada flight arriving at SFO on July 7, 2017.
“In recent years, runway incursions in the U.S. increased by nearly 83%. With near-misses on the rise, we need to act now to ensure that those incidents do not turn into accidents and that our aviation system remains the safest in the world,” DeSaulnier said of the act.
DeSaulnier announced the bill alongside Danville’s Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who readers may remember landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River after both of the plane’s engines were disabled on Jan. 15, 2009.