Syria, defunding Obamacare, immigration reform and a government
shutdown dominated discussion Thursday evening at U.S. Rep. Bill Flores' town
hall meeting in Bryan.
The second-term congressman spoke to a crowd of about 200 in the Margaret Rudder Auditorium, where he capped off his third consecutive day of town hall meetings across his district. He was in Waco on Tuesday and telephoned a meeting with the Pflugerville-Austin area Wednesday, but Flores said the Bryan-College Station audience expressed stronger support for creating a pathway to a legal status for illegal immigrants and had a stronger minority in favor of a government shutdown.
The issue of Syria was tackled before Flores answered questions. President Barack Obama is asking lawmakers to return to Washington on Monday to affirm his call to take military action against Syria for a purported chemical weapons attack on civilians. Flores was one of many Congress members who penned a letter in late August asking Obama to consult Congress before taking action, and he took a strong stance against intervening in Syria.
Flores said he looked at whether there was a clear and present danger to the United States, and what the strategic interest going to Syria would be for the country.
"I think it fails that test and, as a result, I will vote no," Flores said to applause from the crowd.
Flores told The Eagle after the meeting that the only reason he would support military action against Syria is if Israel was threatened or attacked, saying "we will protect them if I have my way."
Flores pointed to the country's recent history intervening in foreign countries. He said the U.S. left Iraq "in a hurry" and the country is now destabilized, noting that America isn't intervening in Iran even though he considers it a clear and present danger. He pointed to the death toll in Egypt and recalled the deaths at the U.S. consulate in Libya.
"I don't think we've got a very good track record recently, even if we did decide to go," Flores said. "If we decide to throw a bunch of missiles over there, you don't know if you're going to hit friend of foe. I don't think we have any friends. I think they're all foes. I would say let's stay out of it."
Defunding the Affordable Care Act was the other topic Flores addressed before turning to public questions. Flores said he thinks its implementation should be stopped and said he would vote to defund it if it comes before the House again. He said bringing the issue forward again could lead to a stare-down between the different branches of government, with the outcome being a government shutdown. At the mention of a government shutdown, the audience began cheering.
Flores tempered the crowd's enthusiasm by saying that no government employees, including military personnel, would be paid in the event of a government shutdown.
"I know that makes you madder than heck, but I'm not a big proponent of shutting the government down," Flores said. "I will push and push and push as hard as I can, but I'm not going to commit suicide."
While the majority of those in the audience expressed their desire to keep the government open, Flores said he was surprised by the strong minority that still favored a government shutdown.
"Quite frankly, I was [surprised]," Flores said after the meeting. "When I laid it out, when you don't pay your troops, that usually gets everybody's attention. But some people were willing to sacrifice our troops' pay even though they're out there defending us."
Several people held signs asking for immigration reform, and Flores called for better tracking of people overstaying their visas. The majority of those in the audience favored creating a path to citizenship for DREAMers, or young immigrants who want a path to citizenship through military experience or higher education. He found support for establishing a probationary status for illegal immigrants who come forward, do not have a criminal record, pay a fine and back taxes before gaining legal permanent residency, though not citizenship.
Flores said he envisions a multilane visa system based on the needs of the market. He pointed to the possibility of an agriculture visa for farmers during crop season or a hospitality visa for low wage kitchen and room service when the jobs can't be filled with local labor.
(c)2013 The Eagle (Bryan, Texas)
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