Crowd urges Peters to hold ground against president
At his first town hall meeting since Donald Trump became president, Rep. Scott Peters was urged by an impassioned crowd to be a roadblock to the new administration.
Trump, in his first 31 days in office, has taken steps toward dismantling the Affordable Care Act, building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, and barring citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the country. The 250 people who showed up at Peters’ forum Monday at the Islamic Center of San Diego said they want the congressman to fight all of it.
Peters, D-San Diego, said they don’t have to worry about his response. Not only is the White House disorganized and slow to propose legislation to Congress, the policies Trump has proposed are unacceptable, he said.
But he also said he’s willing to work with Trump when it makes sense, particularly with a major infrastructure spending program. So far, however, the president hasn’t tried to be bipartisan nor has he proposed many well-developed policy, Peters said.
“I don’t want to be the ‘Party of No.’ Unfortunately it’s hard when he gives you things like the wall and the Muslim ban,” he said.
To make headway against Trump, California voters — who supported former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by a nearly 2 to 1 margin — need to understand that they aren’t like voters in many other parts of the country, Peters said.
“We ‘the tolerant people’, we have to be tolerant,” he said. “Of course there are racists out there, right? Of course there are. But not everyone who didn’t vote the way we voted is a racist, or a misogynist, or a deplorable, for God’s sake. But we need those people. We need to be listening to those people.”
And Democrats need to champion policies that work for people outside of California, he said. In 2016 his party was “tone-deaf” and lost in parts of the country that were left behind in the economic recovery after the Great Recession because it didn’t offer voters meaningful job-creation policies and better opportunities for their children that clicked.
“We need to offer opportunities. Most people don’t see themselves as victims, they see themselves as economic actors,” he said.
Unlike similar events in other districts, particularly ones represented by Republicans, Peter’s town hall was orderly, but attendees were not meek and did not hesitate to show their dissatisfaction with him or Trump. Whenever Peters mentioned a member of the president’s cabinet, or a Republican in Congress, the crowd booed (except for a reference to Sen. John McCain, which was met with cheers).
“I can tell we’re pretty much in agreement in this room,” Peters said.
Roger Ogden, a frequent critic of politicians he perceives as too weak on terrorism, questioned why anyone would hold a meeting at the Islamic Center, a place of worship for two of the 9-11 hijackers. He was boo-ed down, and later got into a shouting match.
Peters said he didn’t agree with the sentiment of Ogden’s question, but it was a legitimate query. The Muslim community is in a better position to alert law enforcement of any members that might have nefarious intentions, and the government needs to have a good relationship with Muslims, he said.
“I don’t think that any of us should forget about 9-11, and that’s why we should have a good relationship with the Muslim-American community,” he said.
Marwa Abdalla, another member of the crowd, said Peters’ answer was offensive. Muslims care about their country and other Americans, and would report any bad actors out of their commitment and concern and a moral duty, she said.
“What I wanted to hear from you was that our community is not just a watchdog community... we are not spies” she said. “The appropriateness of holding the meeting here is that we are your constituents too.”
Peters said he did not respond to Ogden’s question precisely, and that holding the forum at the Islamic Center makes a statement about Muslims in democracy.
“I fully embrace the symbolism of having this meeting here,” he said.
Members of the House are in the beginning of their first substantial recess since Trump was sworn in as president, and as they return to their home districts, their constituents are pressuring them to hold town hall meetings. Peters staff organized Monday’s event at the request of several grassroots organizations.
Some of the members are organizing the forums themselves, while others are coordinated by a patchwork of grassroots progressive organizations.