In his first teletown hall of the year, Rep. Greg Gianforte on Wednesday said he never would have worked without pay in the private sector, as is currently the case with 800,000 federal workers now stuck in the 26th day of a government shutdown.
But the state’s only member of the U.S. House stated his support for President Donald Trump and his position on the southern U.S. border, adding that he would visit the border personally in the weeks ahead.
It took 4 minutes and 30 seconds for the border and government shutdown to come up in Wednesday’s call, which was open to informed members of the public.
Gianforte said the border issue could be solved “in about 45 minutes.”
“I stand with President Trump in reforming our broken immigration system and securing our border,” he offered. “I stand with the ICE agents and law enforcement officials who are protecting our communities from the violent criminals who are here illegally.”
Gianfore said the nation’s border has been open for too long. As a result, Mexican meth is pouring into Montana communities and tearing families apart. He said he spoke with a Montana sheriff who said 90 percent of his crimes were directly related to addiction, burglary, vandalism, domestic violence and kids in foster care.
“And it all traces back mostly to Mexican meth that’s pouring over our southern border,” Gianforte said. “We have a humanitarian and national crisis issue with the border. More than 30 percent of all the women that show up at the southern border have been sexually assaulted during their journey.”
Gianforte attributed that later figure to Doctors Without Borders. Last year, he said, U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested 17,000 people at the southern border with a criminal record, including 800 gang members.
“We can do a much better job than we’re currently doing,” he said. “That’s why I stand with President Trump in securing our border. In fact, in the very near future, I will be visiting the southern border so I can see with my own eyes and hear the stories directly from border agents and the people who live there to make the case back here in Washington to make sure we can secure our border.”
As to the government shutdown, Gianfore said Trump has been clear in saying he will only sign a bill that includes funding for a “visible barrier,” including “a wall” to secure the border.
He blamed Rep. Nancy Pelosi for what’s now the longest shutdown in U.S. history. Republicans run both the Senate and White House. The shutdown began while the GOP also dominated the House.
“Just for all those hard working federal employees who might be on the phone, I apologize,” Gianforte said. “Personal policies should not keep you from getting your paycheck. I didn’t come here to Washington to shut the government down. Nancy Pelosi needs to get back to the table and make a serious offer.”
With the exception of Sen. Jon Tester, Montana’s congressional delegation has taken to staged phone hearings as a way to field questions from constituents. It’s a shift from years past when members of Congress actually faced audiences head on.
Given the current strategy of teletown halls, it’s impossible to observe the integrity of the calls coming in, or whether they’re staged as puff-ball questions. Most callers are only identified on a first-name basis, such as “Candy” and “George,” who were afforded the chance to ask questions on Wednesday.
Most of those questions began with support for Gianforte and came with right-leading politics. One caller blasted Pelosi for “crazy Second Amendment infractions.” Another caller supported the wall and the president and asked Gianforte “what can we as citizens of Montana do to push for Nancy Pelosi to hear us and quit doing what she’s doing?”
The media was invited to listen in, but not ask questions.
Wednesday’s call also included an impromptu survey of those on the phone regarding the most important issue facing America. The five choices offered by Gianforte included the federal debt, the economy and jobs, border security and the wall, national security and the military, health care, and veterans.
The results placed border security as listeners’ number one concern, followed by the national debt and health care.
“The situation we’re in doesn’t make any sense,” Gianforte told one caller, who said he was a member of the Coast Guard. “I’ll just apologize on behalf the government. There’s no reason why you should have to work without pay.”