BEDFORD — A lack of bipartisanship in Washington, D.C., immigration reform and the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump were among the topics discussed by freshman congressmen Ben Cline and Denver Riggleman on Wednesday in Bedford.
U.S. Rep. Ben Cline, R-6th District, and U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-5th District, held a joint town hall meeting to give residents an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with their representatives about issues facing the country and the state.
Bedford County is split between the two districts, and the meeting was held at the Bedford campus of Central Virginia Community College.
"I think this is an appropriate venue for this meeting," CVCC President John Capps said. "We are not an ivory tower, we are a public institution of the people and for the people. I think this college embodies the very spirit these men represent."
Cline and Riggleman — who each began their first terms in office in January — took questions from the more than 100 people in attendance during the meeting, which was moderated by Virginia Delegate Terry Austin, R-19th District, who represents Alleghany County and parts of Botetourt and Bedford counties.
Questions asked during the meeting ranged from trade negotiations with China and other countries to the current debate on border security between the United States and Mexico.
One question submitted by an audience member asked Cline and Riggleman about their attempts to work with Democrats to pass bipartisan legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. Both congressmen said their attempts to "work across the aisle" have been frustrating.
"Everyday I'm in Washington, I look back on my 16 years in Richmond more fondly," Cline said. "The camaraderie and cooperation we had in Richmond just isn't there. There is too much focus on party and not enough focus on policy."
Cline said that, unlike in Richmond, the representatives in Washington are separated from each other according to party affiliation.
"In Richmond, we would eat together in the delegate lounge, which gave us an opportunity to build relationships," Cline said. "In Washington, the lounges are separate and when committees meet, there are separate doors for Republicans and Democrats to enter the room, and we don't interact until we sit down at the table. It's hard to build relationships when the structure is set up to prevent it."
"I think Ben and I both are just looking for the common sense door to go through," Riggleman said. "There are too many people putting politics before policy and people, and it makes it hard to get anything done.
"I have been told that certain representatives refuse to support some of the legislation I have put forward because they don't want it to appear that I can be bipartisan," he said. "They want that division because that is how they think they can win. Too many people are concerned with winning an election instead of helping people."
When asked about border control between the U.S. and Mexico, both congressmen said they supported protecting the border from illegal immigrants.
"When you look at our current situation with illegal immigration, we are failing to protect three groups of people," Riggleman said. "We are failing to protect U.S. citizens, we are failing to protect the law enforcement officers that protect us and we are failing to protect the immigrants themselves. We need to come up with a common sense plan for border protection before things get out of hand."
"We have an immigration crisis," Cline said. "We are a land of opportunity and we want to encourage legal immigration. However, we have to protect our citizens from people who think so little of our laws that they come into our country illegally. Both Congressman Riggleman and I have supported legislation that has provided an additional $4 billion in resources to address the issues we have at our border and will continue to fight to keep our borders safe."
When asked about House's impeachment inquiry into Trump, both Cline and Riggleman expressed frustration about the issue.
"My issue with this situation is the total lack of transparency from the Democrats," Riggleman said. "The Democrats have wanted to impeach this president since the very beginning, and we can't get anything done right now because they are focused on this instead of actually doing something to help people."
"Denver worked in military intelligence and I am a former prosecutor so we both deal in facts," Cline said. "My problem with this is I'm seeing a lot of politics in Washington right now and not a whole lot of facts at all. The lack of impeachable evidence leads me to believe that this is a political action to try and undo the last election and put an obstacle in the way of voters during the next election.
"This needs to stop because nothing should prevent your voices from being heard," he said. "We were elected to represent you and if this doesn't come to the floor for a vote, your voice cannot be heard."