CAMBRIA — U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeulah, held a town-hall meeting here Friday that for a few moments was as icy as the impending snowstorm outside, with the subjects of the government shutdown and a proposed border wall taking center stage.
The representative for Wisconsin’s 6th Congressional District answered questions from his constituents about immigration, the shutdown, furloughed federal workers’ pay, Russian sanctions, term limits and the U.S. military withdrawal from Syria.
Grothman opened by offering an update of how he views the political climate in Washington.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is “having trouble getting a handle on things,” Grothman said, lamenting that he has not yet been notified of which committees he will be a part of this year. In previous years, he said he’s been notified before Christmas.
“Our budget is way out of whack,” Grothman said, claiming that under retired Speaker Paul Ryan, Congress made its greatest budget headway in years before Democrats assumed control upon winning the majority of seats in the November elections.
The subject of the government shutdown dominated the conversation.
Last week, Grothman was one of seven House members who voted against full back pay for all furloughed federal workers.
“They will get paid. They have to get paid,” Grothman said. “But they won’t be paid until the shutdown is over, which is ridiculous.”
But Grothman noted a distinction that he believes the federal workers who are required to return to work despite the shutdown should receive full pay, whereas the workers not required to return until after the shutdown should get partial pay. This is partly why he voted against the back pay legislation that still ended up passing the House last week.
All furloughed workers are eligible for unemployment while the shutdown is ongoing, Grothman said, adding that workers who aren’t required to work right now could pick up a temporary side job.
Grothman is frustrated by “the callousness on both sides” of Congress to not pay required workers at all for three months until a possible shutdown resolution would allow back pay to kick in. “It’s not realistic,” he said.
John Ward, a furloughed federal worker, stood up during the meeting to question Grothman on his decision to vote against the legislation to approve back pay for all federal workers.
“You just explained that you would rather pay me some portion of what my salary should be, and what I’m saying is that I’m disappointed in that,” Ward said.
Ward said he has saved up enough money that he can ride out the shutdown without a paycheck for the time being, but the shutdown is more drastically affecting some of his colleagues, who are struggling to make ends meet.
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The proposed border wall along the southern U.S. border also garnered ample attention at the town hall.
“It’s time to put a wall on the southern border,” Grothman told his constituents, who offered a very mixed response.
Grothman said President Donald Trump has made a fair compromise by bringing the requested amount to fund the wall down from about $20 billion to around $5.6 billion.
He said eight Democrats recently voted in favor of border wall money, and he criticized some party leaders for voting in favor of fencing under previous administrations before then digging in against Trump.
Grothman has introduced legislation in Congress aimed at dismantling the protections in sanctuary cities. He said allowing undocumented immigrants to avoid law enforcement sends the wrong message to other immigrants looking to enter the U.S. illegally.
“It’s not surprising people break the law,” Grothman said, adding that some politicians are giving “a green light” to migrants to disobey immigration authorities and assume the U.S. won’t enforce its federal laws.
Keith Peterson of Columbus stood up in favor of Trump’s border wall proposal, citing a National Institute on Drug Abuse statistic that an average of 515 U.S. citizens are killed by illegal immigrants every year.
Peterson said he blames the drug epidemic on drugs coming across the southern border.
“How much is a life worth?” Peterson said. “I get really upset when I see pictures of people who have died.”
Peterson told Grothman he wants to either see or help organize a march in Washington, D.C., in which families carry coffins of loved ones killed by illegal immigrants to the steps of Congress and hold a memorial service for them.
Lynne Nelson, who lives near Fall River, attended the town hall to hear Grothman’s rationale behind voting in favor of lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia.
“I hate seeing all these white-haired men staying in positions of power,” Nelson said, adding that those politicians are outdated and out of touch with their constituents.
Nelson said she wants to see term limits in Congress, and she insisted that Trump was making a “dictator move” because his administration is ordering thousands of federal workers to return to work without pay until the shutdown is resolved.
Grothman had another town-hall meeting scheduled for Sunday in Manitowoc before he planned to fly out to Arizona to spend most of Martin Luther King Jr. Day visiting the southern U.S. border.