U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio said Tuesday he’s working in the most partisan, divided Congress he’s served in since he joined the House in 1987.

“Historians say the last time it was this bad was the Civil War era,” he said.

DeFazio addressed a standing-room only crowd at a town hall at Roseburg City Hall on Tuesday and answered dozens of questions. He said gerrymandering and campaign finance have contributed to a bitter partisan divide.

DeFazio also said the nation is heading toward a $1 trillion deficit next year, which has been made worse by the 2017 GOP tax reform bill. He said the bill primarily benefited corporations, citing as an example $20 billion of deficit spending on tax breaks to six of the largest banks in America.

“It’s nice to give out money to people and make them happy, but when you are taking us to a point of a $1 trillion deficit, I think that’s a real issue,” he said.

DeFazio also spoke about the need for federal emergency management funding to handle the wildfires raging across Oregon — fires he said are due in part to climate change and in part to poor forest management. He said 35 percent of the national resources for fighting fires are being used in Oregon now, and the Forest Service has already exhausted its $1.9 billion firefighting budget.

The first question of the night was from Leslie Rogers, whose daughter needs a seizure medication that’s gone from $40 per vial to $45,000 per vial over eight years. Without the medication his daughter suffered brain damage, he said. The company has been fined, but hasn’t changed the price, he said.

DeFazio said the government of every other developed nation on earth negotiates lower drug prices for its citizens, except the U.S. He said efforts to allow people to import Canadian drugs were blocked, and a move to create competition with generics worked for awhile until large pharmaceutical companies began buying up the generics.

“We really need to wade back in on this issue as a Congress,” he said. “(But) it’s not going to happen in this Congress.”

Pam McDermott of Myrtle Creek asked DeFazio to vote to confirm Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, but DeFazio pointed out that only senators get a confirmation vote. However, he also said if he did have a vote he wouldn’t vote for Kavanaugh because of his views on presidential power.

“I don’t believe the president of the United States is a king, and he’s issued judgments that the president should basically be exempt from all laws until the president retires. I don’t believe that,” he said.

He said former President Richard Nixon would have remained in office a lot longer under such a system.

Several veterans asked about problems with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Tim Banks said he’s an 80-percent-service-connected veteran, but still doesn’t qualify for dental care.

DeFazio said over the last 20 years, the VA has been creating different levels of care for different veterans, but that wasn’t what veterans were promised.

“That’s not what the original compact was between the people who signed up and the government of the United States,” he said.

DeFazio said he’d like to remove some tax breaks under the 2017 tax bill for people who don’t need them, and use that money to pay for dental care for veterans.

In response to another question, DeFazio said not enough is being done to protect elections from interference. Several states have no paper trail, something he said needs to change. He said Oregon’s system, with paper ballots that are machine readable is the safest. He supported legislation that would have given federal money to the states to help pay for election system improvements.

“It’s an ongoing problem. I’m worried about it,” he said.

Milton Bernheisel asked DeFazio if he agreed with a recent decision by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who refused for weeks to send city police officers to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement in patrolling a protest at the local ICE field office. Bernheisel also asked if DeFazio supported ICE or wanted to see it abolished.

DeFazio said he supports ICE doing what they did under the Obama administration, which was to go after criminals. He said Trump undermined that by changing ICE’s mission to going after all 12 million immigrants, and then created a bigger problem by having ICE separate children from their parents at the border. Now, he said, ICE agents can’t get information about criminals from other illegal immigrants because they’re known as the people who take children away from their moms.

He said the Portland protesters should have been removed in a reasonable way. He also said he’s not a fan of Wheeler because he disagrees with the mayor’s proposal to charge tolls on Interstates 5 and 205.

Reporter Carisa Cegavske can be reached at 541-957-4213 or ccegavske@nrtoday.com.

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Senior Reporter

Carisa Cegavske is the senior reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at ccegavske@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4213. Follow her on Twitter @carisa_cegavske

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