At a town hall-style meeting at the Cortland YMCA, Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica) demonstrated the delicate balancing act required for political survival in this purple district, which went for Trump in 2016, but tossed out Republican Claudia Tenney in 2018 in favor of the 40-year-old Democrat taking questions from his constituents Sunday afternoon.
During the two-hour meeting attended by more than 70 people, Brindisi kept returning to the theme of “finding common ground” on issues ranging from gun control to health care.
That’s not always easy.
At one point, a group of about 20 anti-vaccine activists stood up in the back of the room and commandeered the audience microphone. A few minutes into a monologue with no question in sight, a woman in the middle of audience shouted, “Stop it! Stop this crazy nonsense!”
After six minutes, Brindisi jumped in. Once again, he aimed to find common ground, and found it, by voicing his distrust of the pharmaceutical companies (“I don’t trust them for the life of me,” he said), to which the whole room erupted in applause and cheers.
He then voiced support for vaccination, which got his applause from the front of the room, but not the back; and finally he spoke in favor of “a parent’s right to make informed decisions … about their children’s health,” which got applause form the back of the room, but not the front. He then told the group he wanted to talk with them individually after the meeting.
Immigration took up the beginning of the town hall, starting with a question from Francis Uhlir, 92, of Cortland, who spoke about migrants coming from Central America. Uhlir said Congress should look to the causes of the problem, and asked Brindisi to consider a kind of Marshall Plan to rebuild countries ravaged by poverty, war and drug cartels.
Brindisi stopped short of endorsing Uhlir’s idea, however he did criticize the Trump administration’s efforts to cut foreign aid to these countries.
In responses to further questions on immigration, Brindisi pointed to systemic failure in federal immigration laws, which don’t take into account a real need for foreign workers, he said, and failed to provide any solution for the more than 10 millions undocumented people here already.
“You can’t round up 10 million people and send them back to where they came from,” he said. “It’s impossible.”
He said Congress needs to reach a compromise, which he said would entail a path to citizenship “for those who are playing by the rules.”
Brindisi also fielded questions on agriculture, tariffs, the minimal wage, the opioid crisis, income inequality and gun laws, as well as a few questions about the Trump administration and impeachment.
“I don’t support beginning an impeachment process because there is a process playing out right now,” he said. “Congress is exercising its constitutional duty to provide oversight over the administration.”
Regarding the increasing tensions with Iran that nearly led to open conflict last week, Brindisi said President Trump was right to call off air strikes planned in retaliation for the downing of an unmanned U.S. drone. But he also said the administration needs to consult with Congress before the situation deteriorates.
“What the president needs to do is come back to Congress and demonstrate a very clear strategy on how they want to handle Iran,” he said. “That is not happening right now.”