U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, criticized the federal government’s actions in Portland during the Black Lives Matter protests and spoke about a bill he’s put forward to avoid peaceful protesters being targeted in the future.
DeFazio made those comments during an online town hall meeting Monday, during which he also discussed unemployment benefits and mask wearing, among other topics.
DeFazio described the Black Lives Matter protests in Oregon as large, peaceful protests with a few embedded agitators.
“It’s always been like that, and they take advantage of situations. And then what happened in Portland was an overreaction where mostly the people who got targeted were peaceful protesters,” he said.
He criticized the federal government for sending people to Portland who were trained to fight drug terrorists at the border rather than handle crowd control. He said the officers had the wrong equipment and no insignia on their uniforms and used unmarked vehicles.
“Absolutely outrageous,” he said.
He also said those who’ve caused property damage at the protests are “anarchists,” and that he doesn’t understand them. He recommended peaceful protesters not show up for a couple of days so officers can arrest those who are trying to escalate the situation.
DeFazio’s bill would mandate officers wear clothing that identifies their name and agency, arrest only with probable cause that a crime has been committed on or related to federal property, state the reason for the arrest, and wear body cameras.
DeFazio also urged the White House to take a different stance and support wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. A mask mandate should start at the top, he said.
“The president should think, and he should think about the economy. He should think about his supporters because now this isn’t just in the bigger urban areas anymore it’s all across the United States of America. It’s in the red states, it’s in the rural areas, it’s tanking the economy again. They should rethink their position on this,” he said.
“Real men and women and patriots wear masks,” he said.
DeFazio also heard from some people who called to talk about the way the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt them financially.
He heard, for example, from a woman with diabetes who lost her job and now has to decide whether to pay for her insulin or her mortgage. She asked if he thought Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, understood that people lose their insurance when they lose their jobs.
DeFazio said it sometimes feels like some of his colleagues are living on another planet.
“I know if you’re hanging around the country club, if you’re in a state that will let you do that, you don’t see a lot of people who are in distress,” he said.
DeFazio also discussed the COVID-19 relief package that passed the House in May but is still under negotiation with the president’s administration.
The House’s relief package would extend the $600 per week unemployment benefits through January 2021. DeFazio said the Republicans originally offered a $200 a week unemployment extension and have now softened to offering $400. DeFazio said with Democrats asking for $600, the final number might be $500.
The House package would also extend the prohibition on evictions for people unable to pay their mortgages, and provide funds for additional COVID-19 testing.
“There are tests that are out there that can tell you results in 10 minutes, but they aren’t widely available. That’s what they use at the White House, and we need hundreds of millions of those tests, and then we could get back more quickly to regular society,” DeFazio said.
The bill also provides more funding for the U.S. Postal Service, which DeFazio said has become even more critical during the pandemic. Many seniors on Medicare and most veterans get their prescriptions through the mail, he said.
The bill also allocates $3.6 billion for universal, nationwide, secure vote-by-mail just like the Oregon system.
“It’s virtually fraud-proof. In Oregon we know it works,” he said.
And, it creates a paper backup, something many states conducting elections at the polls using voting machines don’t have, he said.