By: Henry Redman of the Daily Jefferson County Union
WHITEWATER — From the get-go, attendees at U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner’s town hall in meeting in Whitewater Sunday night were challenging him on issues that have dominated news cycles in recent months.
The meeting with the 5th District Republican congressman began with questions from multiple members of Moms Demand Action — an organization that fights for stricter regulation of guns. A large majority of people in attendance were members of the group.
The discussion then moved to potential proposals to fight climate change and finally ended with a very heated back-and-forth over a whistleblower complaint from the Intelligence Community Inspector General reportedly about President Donald Trump.
“Well, you’ve let the partisan cat out of the bag,” Sensenbrenner said early on in the night.
On gun control, members of Moms Demand Action asked the congressman about closing loopholes, red flag laws and strengthening background checks. Some said they were gun owners themselves and just wanted something done about the gun violence impacting lives — not just from mass shootings — every day.
Sensenbrenner said his record shows he’s willing to support legislation that effectively curbs gun violence and isn’t just a show for the cameras. He repeatedly brought up his support of the creation of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which prevents people with criminal backgrounds from buying firearms.
“As far as any background-check legislation, I want to see if any of the proposed changes would’ve stopped any of the mass shootings,” Sensenbrenner said. “If that is not the case, then we’ve passed a piece of paper that is ineffective. Which have been a lot of the gun-control measures that have been considered during my time in Congress.”
Sensenbrenner was a co-sponsor of the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act that established the NICS system.
“In 1993, I was the father of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The gun-control lobby has never given me credit for that,” Sensenbrenner said. “Because I have an A rating from the NRA, they think I’m a bad guy.”
Moms Demand Action members asked Sensenbrenner about expanding the already existing background check laws. He responded by saying he wants to make sure a person’s right to due process of law isn’t infringed by taking away their guns.
“I’m not opposed in principle to red flag laws, but I’m insistent upon the red flag law recognizing due process,” Sensenbrenner said. “It seems to me that if we’re taking people’s constitutional rights away — for cause — they ought to be able to tell their story to a judge and let a judge make a determination based upon the evidence in front of them.”
Jenny Rule, a Whitewater resident and member of Moms Demand Action, pressured Sensenbrenner for answers on his voting record and possible next steps for curbing gun violence.
“40,000 lives lost to gun violence in 2017,” Rule said. “I don’t think you’re a bad guy, but I think we can do better.”
Sensenbrenner, who said he lives much closer to Milwaukee’s gun violence than any of the Whitewater residents in attendance, also said repeat gun offenders need to be given stricter treatment.
“One of the problems is the DA’s office is not prosecuting repeat gun violence offenders; they decided it’s not worth their time,” Sensenbrenner said. “Those are the people we have to get off the street, particularly the repeat offenders. Unless we have judges and prosecutors — both of whom are elected in this state — actually giving sentences to people who ought to be taken off the street, we’re not going to solve this problem.”
From the discussion on gun control reforms, the topic at the town hall moved to addressing climate change. Sensenbrenner was asked if there are any solutions to climate change that have an actual chance of being passed through congress.
The congressman said he currently is not on any committees that directly address the changing climate, but that when he was on the Science Committee, he tried to pass laws that would help research into the issue and, in turn, help create jobs while fighting climate change.
“I supported adequate basic research funding for scientific agencies such as the National Science Foundation, NASA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology,” Sensenbrenner said. “I was basically opposed to putting government money into applied research, because that was the government picking winners and losers. What the private sector ought to do is put their own money at risk on successful basic research and commercialize and create a lot of American jobs and make a lot of money as a result.”
Sensenbrenner backed away from any steps further than funding research because he said he didn’t want the government to overreach.
“Government overregulation is a job killer,” Sensenbrenner said.
The discussion on gun control reforms and climate change remained mostly civil. But tempers flared when a constituent asked about a whistleblower complaint against President Donald Trump from a member of the national intelligence community.
Trump has sought, without evidence, to implicate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden worked for a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Although the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.
The matter is under new scrutiny following the whistleblower’s mid-August complaint, which followed Trump’s July 25th call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. The person who filed the complaint did not have firsthand knowledge of the call, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Lawmakers are demanding details of the complaint, but the acting director of national intelligence has refused to share that information, citing presidential privilege.
While Washington was consumed with the complaint during the weekend, back in Whitewater, Sensenbrenner attempted to downplay the issue. He said Trump has the full right to cite executive privilege and not turn over any information about the call or the complaint.
“We should not have presidents or executive agencies such as the FBI rummaging around congressional files and I think the opposite is the case, too, that we should not have Congress rummaging around presidential files that are covered by executive privilege,” Sensenbrenner said.
After saying that the complaint and call are covered by executive privilege, Sensenbrenner turned the issue to the other side of the aisle and said this debate might bring down Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, even though there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by the former vice president.
“Get your foot off the gas pedal on this,” Sensenbrenner said. “I would advise you that you may have buyer’s remorse the way this ends up. Because of the Biden matter being out there, this has got the potential of destroying his candidacy.”
Sensenbrenner’s next town hall meeting is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 19, at 10 a.m. at the Waukesha City Hall.