On April 21, 2022 Rep. Adam Smith held his first in-person town hall meeting in two years. The location was an elementary school in SeaTac, WA, a working class and multi-ethnic suburb to the southeast of Seattle.
After presenting Congressional art awards to three local K12 students, Rep. Smith spent fifteen minutes giving an overview of top issues and then spent the remaining 90 minutes answering questions from constituents.
In his overview he listed as his highest priorities voting rights and economic inequality. He blamed Republican intransigence for preventing progress on both those issues. Indeed, Republicans have been actively making it harder to vote and love cutting taxes.
He lamented the uncivil nature of U.S. politics and discussed the Jan 6, 2021 insurrection. It’s difficult for the Democrats to hold accountable representatives who collaborated with the insurrectionists
On economic inequality, he said that his father, who was a union member, bought a home in SeaTac for $15,000 in 1971. Nowadays, the rent for a one bedroom apartment around here is $2000/month. He said we need to repeal the GOP tax cuts that favor the rich. Often, he said, the rich and the corporations pay little or no taxes. The Dems didn’t promote Build Back Better well, he said; it included childcare support, paid family medical leave, and tax fairness measures.
On healthcare he said that the Affordable Care Act was imperfect but was a step forward. It gave healthcare to 30 million Americans.
Some (obviously Republican) woman dramatically asked Rep. Smith to fulfill his oath to the Constitution and to secure the southern U.S. border. Rep. Smith said that we do and must stop illegal immigration but we have to allow some immigration, e.g., for refugees, and he believes that we need to give a path to citizenship for immigrants who have lived there for many years doing work that Americans wouldn’t want to do.
Someone asked a question about the war in Ukraine. Rep Smith said we are not in a war with Russia and he supports neither war with Russia nor a no-fly zone. He said that we want a peaceful resolution to the crisis but we can’t allow Russia to expand its borders unilaterally. This response struck me as incomplete, at best, because in an email exchange he agreed with me that the U.S. is effectively a combatant, because we so closely work with Ukraine and are supplying weapons.
A veteran complained about money wasted on poorly functioning Navy vessels such as the Littoral Combat Ship. Smith said that his committee is working on fixing such problems. We need more competition in contracting, he said.
A veteran said that the American Legions in this area are going bankrupt.
Someone asked Rep. Smith to work to stop further efforts at Medicare privatization via Medicare REACH.
Many questioners made tedious and lengthy statements before getting to their question. When my turn came to speak, I started with my question: “Will the U.S. fight Russia to the last Ukrainian and risk nuclear war, or will it help Ukraine negotiate a peace?”. I then immediately provided some background. I said:
In response to an earlier questioner, Rep. Smith said we’re not at war with Russia. But we’re at least in a proxy war, because of all the aid we’re providing. Senior U.S. diplomats warned that aggressive NATO expansion was unnecessary and that it would provoke a military response. Yet the U.S. aided color revolutions along Russia’s borders, including in Ukraine. The U.S. wouldn’t allow Russian client states along its borders (remember Cuba?). Heck, it doesn’t even allow socialist governments in South America — which helps explain all the refugees from there.
Rep. Smith responded by saying that the decision about negotiating for peace is one that the Ukrainians will make. He said that Ukrainian President Zelensky and others have suggested that they’d be willing to agree to peace provided the Russians pull back to their 1991 border, before Russia occupied Crimea. Obviously, that will not be acceptable to the Russians. Here again, I think Rep. Smith’s response was incomplete (or disingenuous) because it’s clear that the U.S. has a lot of influence on the outcome of the war and on whether Ukraine negotiates. By spending $40 billion, the U.S. is aiming to force Russia’s defeat — which risks nuclear war. We’re in a proxy war with Russia! In an email exchange with Rep. Smith, he agreed with me that we’re effectively combatants and that there’s a risk of nuclear war. He said it’s a tricky balance to make, between the need to stop territorial aggression and the need to be realistic about the risks of nuclear war. Of course, the entire war would have been avoidable had the U.S. not been so aggressive in NATO expansion. See How the U.S. provoked Russia in Ukraine: A Compendium. Like U.S. wars and proxy wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Indonesia, South America, and so many other countries, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was criminal and stupid. As Thomas Friedman said in his NY Times opinion piece, the U.S. is not innocent in Ukraine.
By the way, later in the day, Rep. Smith, his primary opponent, Stephanie Gallardo, and Rep. Suzan DelBene appeared briefly in an Indivisible Zoom meeting. Gallardo told a harrowing story about how her grandfather was brutally tortured by a government funded by U.S. militarism. I asked Rep. DelBene why the U.S. is spending $40 billion on a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine when, as reported by the Brown University’s Costs of Wars Project, the U.S. killed over 900,000 people in disastrous wars since 9/11, costing about $8 trillion, and when we have such dire needs at home, including dealing with climate change. DelBene repeated the same talking points that Rep. Smith repeats: that we need to protect democracy and stop Russian aggression. I didn’t bother asking the same question to Rep. Smith in the Zoom meeting because I’ve discussed it with him many times before. In the Zoom local chat, someone questioned my spin about the proxy war and said that we’re defending democracy. I explained that while I think Putin’s invasion was evil, the U.S. media and government aren’t telling the entire story about why Russia felt backed into a corner. I pointed out, as I sketched above, that senior diplomats, academics and journalists acknowledged that the U.S. provoked Russia unnecessarily. We are not innocent, and our government always lies about war.
A man at the town hall said that he fought in Iraq for the U.S. and is now applying for citizenship. Many people applauded. But he’s having trouble getting his passport. Rep. Smith said he’d help.
Questions about the Philippine Human Rights Act (H.R. 3884)
There were several questions from Filipino-Americans who called on Rep. Smith to cosponsor the Philippine Human Rights Act (H.R. 3884), which “imposes limitations on providing assistance to the police or military of the Philippines.” The act is sponsored by Rep. Susan Wild and co-sponsored by Rep. Jayapal, Rep. Khanna, and 27 others. The questioners said that the government of the Philippines brutally violates human rights of activists. Many of the questioners held up signs. (See images below). I see that Rep. Smith is not a cosponsor. In response to one of the questioners, who complained of $600 million in police and military aid, Rep. Smith said that if the U.S. stops support, that would prevent the Philippine government from defeating (Muslim) extremists and it could allow the Chinese or Russians to move in, and they’ve be worse. We’d lose leverage, said Smith. Besides, the issue may be moot: the previous president Duterte wanted the U.S. to leave, and so do others now. So the U.S. may be forced to leave.
After the town hall, a dozen or so of the (mostly young) Filipino activists were sitting in a circle on the ground with serious looks on their faces. I asked for permission to take a photo, saying I have a blog. They seemed to give permission, so I took several photos. But one of the protesters followed me to my car and politely requested that I delete the photos — which I did — to protect them from violent revenge from the Philippine government. That request also explains why I smudged the activists’ faces in the images below.
Charles Johnson of Chicago Peace Action had this to say when I asked him about the Philippine Human Rights Act. He gave me permission to quote him.
Our friends from the Philippines here in Chicago (Orgs: Malaya, Anakbayan Chicago, Chicago Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines) passionately call for passage of HR 3884. To my understanding, U.S. military funding allows the Philippine govt to abuse and kill ordinary Filipinos and human rights defenders – in the name of fighting terrorism, Muslim extremism, Russia, China, and anything else. This has continued under Duterte and is expected to continue after him, unless bills like this can start to change the status quo. These activists which my org (Chicago Area Peace Action) know in Chicago are unanimous in calling for this bill’s passage, and countering the arguments Rep. Smith provided that we’re “fighting terror” and don’t want to lose influence, which seem in the realm of “full spectrum dominance.”
Several Republicans asked annoying and ridiculous questions. “Why not stop the gas tax to ease the burden on consumers?” Amazingly, the same guy complained about potholes in roads and admitted that oil company profits are too high. Rep. Smith said we need gas tax to pay for roads, etc. The guy also complained about entrance fees on state parks. But he opposes taxes to pay for their upkeep.
Another dumb Republican talking point that someone actually made is that it’s stupid to tax the rich because they’ll just pass the costs onto the consumer. Instead, the government should stop spending so much money, he said. (I’d partially agree with the last part, but I’d say that the government should stop spending money on stupid, destructive things. We need more spending on good things.)
On voting rights, a Republican suggested that everyone watch the film 2000 Mules, a documentary film by Dinesh D’Souza that allegedly “exposes widespread, coordinated voter fraud in the 2020 election, sufficient to change the overall outcome.” This NPR article debunks some claims in the film.
A Republican suggested eliminating mail-in ballots and instead having a national holiday for in-person voting. Rep. Smith said that mail-in ballots have worked for many years in WA and elsewhere, with few difficulties. There have been some invalid ballot submissions in the country, but they are very few and were detected; the system works.
There were a dozen or so of Rep. Smith’s congressional aides there. As is usually the case, they’re all young. I asked one of them about it, and he said they’re mostly in their 20s or 30s. He said they move onto law school or to jobs as lobbyists, for example.