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At Rep. Ben McAdams’ First Town Hall, Border Security, Shutdown Debate Loom Large

McAdams at town hall.
Julia Ritchey
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KUER
Rep. Ben McAdams holds his first town hall as a congressman in West Valley City on Jan. 19.

Newly elected Congressman Ben McAdams, D-Utah, held his first town hall on Saturday afternoon in West Valley City in a forum dominated by concerns over the government shutdown and President Trump’s demand for a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I’m very frustrated that the shutdown continues,” said McAdams, noting he had voted eight times with House Democrats on bills reopening the government that the Senate has refused to consider. “I think we’re all tired of people talking past each other and not listening to each other.”

stephen olsen
Credit Julia Ritchey / KUER
/
KUER
Stephen Olsen, a furloughed FBI agent, listens to Rep. McAdams discuss border security at a West Valley town hall.

Stephen Olsen, a furloughed FBI agent who stood up in the packed room at the Redwood Recreation Center, said he’d been working without pay for weeks. He said he wanted to see some compromise from both Democrats and the White House.

“I support not getting paid, not opening the government, until there’s some sort of effort, some sort of commitment for border security,” he said.

The South Jordan father of two said he had “skin in the game” on the issue, having worked with other federal law enforcement agencies to stop drug traffickers and other criminals from entering the country illegally.

“We need to have stronger border security,” he said to some applause and some groans.  

McAdams, Utah’s first House Democrat in four years, lamented that the current debate lacks the nuance necessary for good policymaking, calling it a “false choice” between having a barrier or having none.  

“I do believe that there are places where a barrier makes sense — it’s not a 2,000-mile barrier,” responded McAdams. “It may be a 243-mile barrier. I need to look more closely at that.”

President Trump’s latest proposal, released just shortly before McAdams’ town hall began, would include a temporary extension for young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and some Temporary Protected Status (TPS) individuals in exchange for $5.7 billion in border wall funding.

“I’d have to take time to look at it,” McAdams said of the latest offer, adding it should involve more permanent protections for DACA-eligible immigrants.

“Let’s not just kick the can down the road with DACA, but let’s look for a permanent solution for these kids who are really counting on us,” he said.

Utah’s Republican members of Congress, meanwhile, were quick to praise the proposal, as the GOP looks for an exit ramp from the current shutdown without backing down on the president’s campaign pledge to build a border wall.

“POTUS has put forth a reasonable, good faith proposal that will reopen the government and help secure the border,” Sen. Mitt Romney tweeted on Saturday afternoon.

McAdams spent about an hour answering over a dozen questions from 4th District voters, many of them supporters of his — covering health care, public lands and climate change.

The forum allowed McAdams to fulfill a key campaign pledge to interact more with constituents, in contrast to former Republican Rep. Mia Love, whom he criticized for avoiding town halls.  

“Normally I’ll be in Utah one week a month,” he said of his schedule going forward. “I plan to have as many listening sessions as I can.”

 

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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