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Congressman talks straight with constituents on challenging times ahead

Capuano discusses GOP, Trump agenda

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Congressman talks straight with constituents on challenging times ahead
U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano discusses Democrats’ prospects for progress during the Trump administration years at a community meeting in Mattapan.

The missile strikes on a Syrian airbase, funding cuts to sanctuary cities and growing partisanship were among the topics U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano discussed with constituents during a meeting at the Mildred Avenue K-8 school in Mattapan Monday.

In his characteristic straight-talk fashion, Capuano dished out answers that did not always allay the fears and concerns of the 75 or so constituents who attended the meeting. When asked what Democrats could do to block Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Capuano said there isn’t much.

“Donald Trump won the election,” he said. “He kinda didn’t, but he did. He gets to make appointments. I don’t know what can be done to stop him except the next election, and that won’t stop him, just slow him down.”

Court action may be the only avenue to block the more controversial moves coming from the administration of Donald Trump, Capuano added, citing the president’s executive orders barring travel from selected majority-Muslim countries, the first of which was overturned by a federal court and the second, which has been temporarily suspended by a court.

But the very fact that immigration advocates are fighting these battles is the consequence of Trump and the Republicans securing electoral victories. As is a federal budget that contains a proposed $60 billion increase in military spending and a concurrent $60 billion cut to domestic programs, including the Meals on Wheels program and the Women Infants and Children public assistance program.

“He’s literally taking food from children,” Capuano said. “All to fund the military budget. I’m in favor of a strong military. We have one. We already control the skies. Why do we need better planes when nobody can touch the ones we have.”

Capuano also noted that Trump’s budget cuts would cut aid to South Sudan at a time when that region is experiencing a famine, caused in large part by military conflict there.

When asked about the Trump administration’s strike on a Syrian airfield in response to the government’s use of chemical weapons in an attack that killed 87, Capuano said he is opposed to any president taking military action without congressional approval. He noted that he was one of four congressional representatives who sued former President Barack Obama after he launched missile strikes against Libya without congressional approval.

Capuano also noted that the Trump administration has articulated no clear goals for its military action in Syria before taking on its president, Bashar Al-Assad.

“Assad has done terrible things,” Capuano said. “To see a kid who’s the victim of a chemical attack is awful. But is it any better to see a kid starving in South Sudan because of a military conflict?”

When asked whether he thought the attack on Syria was hatched as a diversion from Trump’s domestic and international setbacks, Capuano said he doesn’t think the president would get away with such a tactic.

“If that’s the case, they’ll likely come to regret it,” he said, noting the ongoing investigation into whether people working on the Trump campaign colluded with Russian operatives during or after the election.

Many of the questions revolved around what Democrats in Massachusetts can do to reverse the electoral gains Republicans have made across the country. Capuano urged local Democrats to reach out to friends and relatives in swing states and in districts where Democrats have a chance of picking up congressional or senate seats.

“You have connections, Facebook friends,” he said. “You have to look for opportunities.”

With Congress and the Senate dominated by Republicans, Capuano said it’s nearly impossible for Democrats even to introduce legislation, citing the practice GOP members have taken of not entertaining for a vote any legislation that doesn’t have the backing of the 218 Republican votes it would need to pass in the House.

“It sounds like you’re more willing to compromise than members of the Freedom Party are,” said one constituent, referencing the ultra-conservative faction of the Republican Party.

“I compromise, but I don’t capitulate,” Capuano said, explaining that he’s willing to engage in give-and-take with his GOP colleagues, but not knuckle under to their demands.

Capuano said legislative bodies in blue states like Massachusetts would likely be busy putting in place protections to replace regulations nixed by the Trump administration, including the rollback of privacy regulations barring internet services providers from selling search information to third parties.

“They’re going to sell your information because they can make money off of it,” Capuano said. “The federal government says it’s OK. The states are going to have to deal with it.”

Capuano said Trump may face more resistance than anticipated if he makes good on promises to cut federal funding to cities that refuse to hold undocumented immigrants not accused of crimes to ICE.

“I represent at least four sanctuary cities,” he said, noting that he passed Somerville’s 1988 ordinance protecting undocumented residents from being held in custody solely because of their status.

“We did it because our cops wanted us to,” he said. “They said, ‘We need our immigrants to feel comfortable coming to us.’”

Capuano said it’s unrealistic to think the nation’s courts and jail cells can absorb the estimated 10 million people who are in the U.S. without documentation. And with sanctuary cities in states like Colorado and Utah and more than 30 sanctuary cities in Texas alone, Capuano said political opposition to ICE crackdowns could be formidable.

Airport noise, corporate campaign contributions, gerrymandering and single-payer health care were among the topics Capuano discussed as the meeting continued, as were cuts to Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act and low-income tax credits for the creation of affordable housing. In every topic Capuano pledged to fight, even in the face of insurmountable Republican opposition.

“You have a choice in life,” he said. “You either get into the fight and try or you sit down and cry.”