This week’s Newsmaker Interview is with Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers. McMorris Rodgers has represented the 5th Congressional District in Eastern Washington since 2004. We are appreciative of the Congresswoman’s time as she responds to our questions on a variety of issues. On the coronavirus outbreak, McMorris Rodgers shares her thoughts on encouraging Governor Inslee to reverse his orders on commercial construction, why she voted against Nancy Pelosi’s recent wasteful and partisan $3 trillion package, what she is doing to help rural health facilities and farmers, and how Congress will need to adapt to new health guidelines. She also provides our readers with her insight on the Snake River dams and assisting those with special needs.
Along with Congressman Dan Newhouse, you were very outspoken about the need to safely return Washington State’s commercial construction workers back to the job site. Why did you take such an active role in encouraging Governor Inslee to review his previous orders?
I heard from families in Eastern Washington who had to pay extra rent because construction on their new home was delayed because of the Governor’s order. Overall, commercial construction is important to Eastern Washington families and to our state’s economy. We needed to mitigate the economic impacts of this pandemic, and the construction industry already had extensive health and safety guidelines in place. Their work could be done in a socially distanced way and other precautions can be taken to get their work done while stopping the spread of COVID-19. More than 222,000 Washingtonians work in the construction industry, and many other states who issued stay home orders did deem construction essential, including Idaho, Oregon, and California.
You voted against Nancy Pelosi’s $3 trillion dollar package which has since died in the U.S. Senate. What do you expect will be the next legislative response to the coronavirus outbreak?
I did. This is a crisis, and I’m anxious to talk seriously about addressing the devastation happening to our economy, but this was not a serious bill. It didn’t include a single cent for the Forest Service to make changes to safely fight fires during COVID-19. It didn’t provide liability protections for our health care providers who are on the front lines of this crisis. It didn’t include funding for the Secure Rural Schools or PILT programs. It didn’t do enough to help our struggling Eastern Washington farmers. It didn’t provide any more funding to the Paycheck Protection Program.
Before we pass another COVID-19 relief bill, we need to make sure all of the funding from the CARES Act is spent, and we need to make sure we are addressing the most urgent needs right now, not a bill which is a partisan wish list for the Democrats.
Because of Governor Inslee’s ban on elective procedures, rural health facilities have taken a financial beating during the outbreak. What more can be done to help them?
Elective surgeries can be extremely important in making sure people are healthy. They are also key to keeping our critical access hospitals in rural areas funded and able to serve their communities. From the beginning, I urged the governor to come up with a more sustainable solution for our rural hospitals that rely on elective surgeries and for our patients who are waiting to be treated. Now that these procedures are allowed again, we need to make sure rural facilities are prioritized. The CARES Act, which I supported in Congress, allocated $10 billion specifically to rural hospitals and health clinics, and we need to make sure that subsequent allocations are going to those who need it most.
Many senators and representatives, as well as staff members were infected with the coronavirus. How will the virus impact the way in which Congress conducts business?
Everyone has had to adapt. Many offices are having staff work from home. Committees are beginning the process of conducting their committee business remotely and virtually. Meetings with local groups are being moved to video or telephone conferences.
One thing that hasn’t changed for me is voting in the House in person. The House has taken steps to have voting done in groups to limit the number of people in the chamber at once. I have been going back to DC to vote in person because it is my constitutional responsibility. In fact, I joined a lawsuit this week against Speaker Pelosi’s efforts to subvert that responsibility through proxy voting.
The virus has also impacted the way in which people are campaigning for office. How has it impacted your campaign and your schedule?
In times like these, it’s more important than ever to do our part. Which is why my campaign put politics aside in March to host a blood drive in Spokane to ensure a stable blood supply in our community during this pandemic.
Like so many right now, we have also had to adapt. We have been moving campaign activities, like my annual campaign kickoff breakfast, to virtual events. Earlier this month we held that event and I was joined virtually by hundreds of supporters and my guest Congressman Dan Crenshaw. It was a little different than usual but still a great way to connect with supporters and get them energized about the upcoming election.
You have supported Eastern Washington residents as Seattle-based environmental groups have promoted the removal of the four lower Snake River dams. Do you believe the final federal report on the dams will have any lasting impact in this on-going battle? What more can be done to eliminate the economic insecurity the environmental groups have placed on the region’s agriculture community?
This latest Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is the product of years of scientific collaboration and research conducted by federal agencies. Its determinations are based on the best available science. The best thing we can do to provide certainty to the Columbia and Snake River System is to move forward with this EIS that clearly states the removal of the Snake River dams would increase carbon emissions, compromise system reliability, and lead to economic uncertainty. I would encourage those environmental groups to think about the increase in carbon emissions that would result from the removal of these dams.
We need to continue to tell the positive story of our dams to everyone in the region. We also need to point to what is really having the largest impact on the Southern Resident Killer Whale and the salmon they rely on — Puget Sound.
You have been active supporting for those in the disabled community, especially those with Down Syndrome. What are your current legislative goals for these constituents?
My goal will always be to ensure every person, no matter your background or walk of life, has the opportunity to achieve the American dream. So many people with disabilities want that same American dream as you or I. They want to work, they want to live independently, they want to contribute to society. I led in passing the ABLE Act in 2014 to help people with disabilities and their families establish tax-free savings accounts to use for expenses. In 2017, I led on the ABLE to Work Act and the ABLE Financial Planning Act, which were both signed into law to allow people with disabilities the chance to work, save, and live full and independent lives. I will continue leading on policies like these that help every person reach their full potential.