AUBURN, NY – Daily newspaper covering Cayuga County and surrounding areas, The Citizen joined with Congressman John Katko for a live interview on Facebook this morning (Feb 27.)
Republican U.S. Representative of the 24th Congressional District covering all of Cayuga, Onondaga, and Wayne counties and the western portion of Oswego County, Katko answered questions submitted to The Citizen from residents in local areas.
Katko, who was first elected to office in November 2014 and then reelected in November 2016 first took questions regarding his campaign promise to hold regular town hall meetings to engage with the public on a routine basis, which as of yet have not become routinely scheduled.
“What’s your stance on holding those public forums going forward?” Katko was asked.
“We’re going to continue doing everything we’ve been doing. I dare say, we’ve been one of the most approachable congressmen’s offices in the country,” he responded. “We routinely make ourselves available, we deal with all kinds of issues on all matters in many different ways.”
For some background, he sited 20 telephone town halls reaching 100,000 people, eight different forums on different subject matters and responding to email, telephone and meeting inquiries that totaled 72,000 different requests since taking office.
“This notion we haven’t been public and available, it’s just not accurate. We’re going to continue to do that and we’re going to continue to make ourselves available and people are going to know where we are and when we’re going to be available,” he added.
However, as for scheduling a public meeting in the near future, Katko said a plan is in the works but not yet set in stone.
“We don’t have any exact dates set yet because for the next six weeks straight we are going to be in Washington, but we are going to set them as soon as possible on a weekend and we are going to definitely have plenty of them going forward,” he said, as well as continuing telephone town halls.
The conversation then turned to policy issues, taking a question from a local small business owner in Dewitt seeking Katko’s idea of an adequate replacement for the Affordable Care Act in the event of a repeal.
Katko said outside of political parties, the business community is referring to the ACA as “circling the drain under its own weight” and “in a death spiral under its own accord.”
While he applauded Republicans for tackling the difficult task of fixing the ACA, he said “the devil’s in the details.”
“I have been firm since the moment I ran for Congress that I will not vote for any repeals of Obamacare unless a replacement is ready to go,” he explained.
He said market based reforms are on the table as replacement for Obamacare and the current structure.
By setting up high risk pools nationwide funded by the federal government, the theory is that it keeps down the price of insurance for others, he said.
Additionally, having tax credit for people who buy insurance and expanding HSA accounts are also ideas toward replacement, he continued.
“My concerns are that, number one, a lot more people are insured than before and we’ve got to make sure that doesn’t fall by the wayside,” he said. “And my biggest concern is that we don’t have anything ready to go yet, and time is getting late because by the end of March they are supposed to be doing the repeal. If the repeal doesn’t have replacement ready, I’m not going to vote for it,” he said, regardless of whether he votes outside party lines to do so.
“I don’t think we should risk people losing their insurance because we want to do the repeal first, I just don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said.
Switching again to national security, Katko was asked about the new task force on preventing terrorists from entering the United States that he was recently named to.
This task force germinated from a previous task force ran by Katko that he said was “very successful.”
Foreign Fighters Task Force examined the phenomenon of people from across the country and around the world going to the middle east to fight for ISIS and then returning home radicalized as “ticking time bombs,” he said.
That report he issued roughly a year ago had 50 recommendations of which more than half have become law or are in the process to become law, he continued.
However, this task force is focused more on keeping terrorists from infiltrating the United States, of which he is overseeing the whole thing.
“We’ve got to look at the refugee process, the immigration process, making sure our vetting procedures are appropriate and by no means should we restrict anybody based on their race, religion, creed, or color, or anything. We should do it based on security concerns, identify the security concerns, articulate those and let Congress decide what to do with them,” he explained.
Following up, Katko was asked why the Travel Ban put in place by President Donald Trump through executive order was necessary.
Katko said the ban was poorly rolled out and President Trump was heavily criticized for it to which he agrees, however, he feels his intentions were not improper.
“His ultimate goal was to keep the country safe and it’s a fact terrorists are attempting to infiltrate the refugee process and the immigrant process to get terrorists into the United States and into Western Europe,” he said.
“There is an issue with respect to terrorists in the United States and people wanting to do us harm, and its real,” he emphasized. “The question is how do you deal with it? The way the President rolled out his executive order did not do a good job.”
Instead, he said we have to investigate both people in the United States, even citizens, being radicalized online by ISIS and also preventing people coming into the United States to cause harm to do everything possible to keep our country safe.
As one of many executive orders, Katko was asked if he feels that President Trump is not involving Congress enough in some of the policies
“It was the ultimate criticism of the Obama administration,” he started. “This idea that the executive branch can just simply legislate through the executive order process, I think is troublesome. I think we need to work more together in Congress … The problem is the executive orders are basically ignoring the legislative process,” although noting that many of the executive orders initiated by President Trump are rolling back Obama policies.
After a sudden influx of threats against the Jewish community across the nation, including here in CNY, Katko was asked what role can Congress play to address these threats and the notion of antisemitism?
“They’re not just isolated phoned-in telephone threats which are bad enough, I mean, they’re desecrating cemeteries,” he said. “No matter what group it is, whether it’s LGBT community, the African American community, the Muslim community, the Jewish community, we have to be vigilant to make sure we prevent this type of discriminatory and really kind of terror related conduct,” he said.
After a congressional delegation in Israel, Katko said it really struck home to him that we must never let our guard down with respect to any kind of discriminatory action in our country.
“That’s what our country was founded upon, freedom, and people that want to encroach upon that should pay a heavy price in my mind,” he said.
He went on to address the possibility of investigations regarding Russian ties in the Trump administration, the combat of blue green algae in Lake Owasco and other lakes throughout CNY, his stance on repealing stream protection, and veterans services before wrapping up the interview with an overview of what his office is working toward currently, including his recent push again to make Fort Ontario a national park.
“I’m enthusiastic, I’m excited, I’m honored. I do want to say, for the people that have been concerned about some of the issues with respect to this president, I just want to say, I understand it. I don’t always agree with you, but I understand. The bottom line is, I’m not the enemy. I’m a source to work with you, I’ve had a proven track record of reaching across the aisle … we’re going to continue to keep ourselves accessible,” he said. “I just ask that you tap down the frustration levels a bit and just engage me in different ways and we will get you the answers. I hope today was a good example to show you that I’m not a knucklehead, and that I will work with you and that we will get things done together but if we don’t try to reach across the aisle with an extended hand as opposed to a shaken fist, we’re not going to get things done.”
Watch the full interview here.