Swalwell talks tax bill, national security and more at town hall

Full house at Cal High for representative's last event of 2017 

It was a packed house in the cafeteria at San Ramon's California High School Saturday morning, where local U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) held his last town hall of the year.

At the meeting, Swalwell touched on a variety of issues, from the recently approved tax bill to immigration to the numerous sexual misconduct allegations coming out in politics and the media.

Most of the town hall, which lasted about an hour and a half and was attended by at least 200 residents of the 15th Congressional District, was dedicated to a question-and-answer session, though Swalwell opened by talking about national security issues, gun legislation and the recently approved tax bill, which he adamantly opposed.

"If you're going to lower (the corporate tax rate), there should be a guarantee that profits are shared with the workers," he said. "And that's not in this bill at all."

He criticized the removal of certain deductions, including the mortgage interest deduction, which hits hard in the Bay Area.

"As a kid growing up here, I lived in 11 different homes, I went to nine different schools before I graduated high school....I remember when I was 14 years old, my parents bought their first house, it was because of the mortgage interest deduction," he said. "That was a big part of being able to buy a home in Dublin, was because of that deduction."

He added that tax reform was needed, but that the bill passed Friday night was not the solution.

"I believe that we need tax reform," he said. "I think it should be more simplified. But I think it should help working families...It shouldn’t be a way to just allow the people at the very top who are already doing well in this economy, to do better."

On the national security front, Swalwell focused on North Korea, criticizing President Donald Trump for "undermining the secretary of state ... engaging in name-calling" in a situation that has "gotten very dangerously out of control."

He pointed out that 38,000 U.S. troops and their families were stationed in South Korea, potentially in harm's way.

"These are challenging times, and cool, reasonable minds and showing American leadership, by working with our allies, is the best way to do that," he said.

Swalwell's comments on gun legislation came in part from his post as a member of the Judiciary Committee. While he's not opposed to hunting for sport, he said more needs to be done to advance universal background checks, in light of the hundreds of mass shootings that have occurred since Sandy Hook.

"Unfortunately, there was legislation on Wednesday that would expand who could carry a concealed weapon in the United States," he said.

The legislation, he said, would allow someone from a state like Idaho, which has very little in terms of background checks, to have a concealed weapon in California, which requires applicants undergo a rigorous psychological exam and thorough background check, obtain an insurance policy and complete a weapons safety course.

"Now all of the limitations that we've put to protect our community in California will mean nothing to somebody who wants to bring their firearm into our communities," Swalwell said.

After his 20-minute opening, Swalwell began taking attendees' questions, which ran the gamut of topics and issues, from the national to the local to even the personal.

One of the first questions focused on the recent cases of sexual misconduct that have arisen, and what should be taught to boys and young men.

"What I fear is that only people of noteworthy status are going to be held to account and that in different offices across America, that harassers are going to get away with it," he said.

In Congress, "Me Too" legislation had been proposed, he said, which would require transparency in sexual misconduct settlements. Transparency is important, Swalwell said, but would necessitate delicacy, in order to protect victims from having their names revealed.

On a national scale, he said, it comes back to having more diverse leaders, both in terms of gender and race. "I firmly believe that the environments we work in, reflect who is at the leadership table," he said.

When asked for an update on health care legislation, Swalwell voiced his support for a single payer system, though not free health care.

He took a parallel stance when asked about high levels of student loan debt nationwide. "I don’t like free college," he said. "To me, the way I was raised, nothing is free, you have to work your way through college."

He pointed, though, to his initiative, College Promise, which stipulates that if you are a student in work study through college and serve a year afterward in a national service, "you should come out with a debt-free education."

Swalwell was asked about the ongoing Russia investigation, particularly as a member of the House Intelligence Committee. He pointed to the recent progress coming out of the Robert Mueller investigation.

"What I would like for our own House Intelligence Committee investigation, is that we be (not only) as serious and determined as Bob Mueller and his team, but as serious and determined as the Russians were when they undermined our democracy," he said.

Right now, he said, he's been a proponent for the House investigation being able to subpoena witnesses and push for third party documents -- currently, the witnesses who come forward are there voluntarily and usually don't bring requested documents.

"Right now, the Republican-led investigation is essentially a take-them-at-their-word investigation," he said.

A few attendees asked about a bill regarding H1B visas that was "stuck in judiciary."

Swalwell didn't have a specific answer regarding that particular bill, but spoke to the need for immigration reform in general, adding that diversity was important to the enrichment of a community. He also said, however, that local computer software companies, many of which sponsor H1B visas, also needed to seek qualified candidates locally.

When asked about the possibilities for political bipartisanship, Swalwell said that he hoped combating diseases was a cause that both Republicans and Democrats could get behind.

He also pointed to the effort to extend BART from Pleasanton-Dublin up to Livermore as a local bipartisan success, in which he, Republican Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty and Congressman Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) are working together in an effort to improve public transportation options.

One man asked Swalwell if, considering the temperament of President Donald Trump, whether Congress would take away his authority to pull the proverbial nuclear trigger.

Swalwell's response was that on a gut level, the idea of generals undermining the elected commander-in-chief was awful.

"Now, when you think about the reality of the circumstance, I would say the unfitness for office that Donald Trump has shown, I think all of us are saying thank God that they're plotting to do everything they can to prevent him from recklessly launching a nuclear weapon," he said.

However, he said, hopefully the situation wouldn't reach that point; Congress, he said, should be the check on executive power, not the generals.

Before the town hall meeting began, members of the groups Indivisible East Bay and Alameda4Impeachment held a rally outside the Cal High cafeteria, urging Swalwell to support articles of impeachment being filed against Trump. He did not address the topic of impeachment during the town hall.

"We're here to show our support to Congressman Swalwell in the event that he decides to support Articles of Impeachment," said Andy Cyr, from Indivisible East Bay. "His position in the Judiciary Committee, that would be the first place that it starts up. He has a special role being also on the Intelligence Committee. So not only does he see all the evidence as part of the House investigation, and to Russian meddling in the election, but he also has a role, by being on the Judiciary Committee, in starting the Articles of Impeachment."

Article: Pleasanton Weekly by Erika Alvero