WARREN COUNTY – In what some constituents might consider a rare sighting in the northwestern outreaches of Virginia’s Sixth U.S. Congressional House District, Congressman Goodlatte addressed the weekly luncheon of the Front Royal Rotary Club on Friday, March 2.
Goodlatte was the featured speaker, though for many the emotional high point of the noon gathering at the Blue Ridge Shadows Holiday Inn was the appearance of Denise Eastham, widow of long time Rotary member, former Front Royal mayor and local banker Jim Eastham, who passed last November after a courageous bout against pancreatic cancer.
Mrs. Eastham announced some endowments to local agencies and Rotary left by her husband; and received a little help from her friends in tracking down a certain local tree cutter, whom she insists is going to get paid by her husband for including their property in some tree work, whether he wants to or not.
But back on the political side, Goodlatte opened by acknowledging his post-2017 Election Day decision not to seek re-election in the 2018 Congressional mid-terms. That November 2017 state election saw Democrats erase all but one of the Republican’s 16-seat majority in the State House of Representatives. Citing his future political retirement, Goodlatte said he would miss his constituents, though he admitted some remained “grouchy about me”.
Goodlatte then traced some recent actions and issues on the federal scene. One presidential initiative Goodlatte reserved judgment on was President Trump’s plan announced in recent days to impose hefty tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. The Sixth District delegate noted the plan was “making Wall Street nervous” as the specter of a trade war with China and Europe looms.
Otherwise the House Judiciary Committee chairman generally towed the Trump Administration and Republican partisan line on things like tax reform and lowering corporate tax rates; what he termed “mandatory spending programs” like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid – they will not be eliminated, but reformed he said; infrastructure spending – singling out nearby Interstate 81 as a target for major improvements; immigration reform, including a long-term fix for DACA addressing the situation of people brought to the U.S. illegally as children, many of whom remember no other home and have become productive members of American society; and finally the issue at the forefront of many people’s minds after another mass school shooting – legislative action on gun control.
In fact, the first three questions asked by Rotary members during a brief question-and-answer session following the delegate’s remarks were about access to semi-automatic weapons and school safety. Goodlatte responded that he does not support a blanket ban on assault rifles of the kind used in the Parkland, Florida high school shooting that left 17 students and teachers dead. Rather, the delegate said he thought Congress should focus on keeping such weapons out of the hands of people “who should not have them.”
Instead of an emphasis on new laws limiting public access to semi-automatic weapons like those used in Parkland, Florida and last year in the Las Vegas concert shooting that was the worst mass murder in U.S. history; Goodlatte said he believed a “lack of enforcement of current laws” was the primary problem on the gun control front. He called for increased prosecution of people who provided false information on gun purchase forms. However, Goodlatte did indicate support for banning so-called bump stocks that essentially turn semi-automatic rifles into the machine guns they were designed to be used as in war zones.
Asked what measures he would “support on Capitol Hill to protect students in school now” Goodlatte pointed to increased training to assure that existing response protocols during attacks were followed and met.
The Congressman also dismissed the idea of raising the age at which semi-automatic assault weapons could be purchased from 18 to 21. He noted states generally controlled age restrictions and observed that people are allowed to enlist in the U.S. military at 18.
Tax reform and loopholes
During a brief interview with the media following the meeting, Goodlatte said he believed the boon to U.S. business from the Republican-Trump tax reform bill would eliminate the $1.5 trillion revenue deficit created by the bill’s largely corporate and top income bracket tax cuts. Of the previous 35% U.S. corporate tax rate – a rate he called the highest in the developed world, reduced to about 21% by the Republican plan – Goodlatte admitted that some major U.S. corporations did not pay that rate when it was in place, at least on paper.
“There are many, many, many companies that pay the full 35%. But there are some big ones, like GE (General Electric), that some years don’t pay any corporate tax. So, that’s also part of the tax reform – they will be paying more under this system. Not as much more as I think they should have been,” Goodlatte said, stating he would have liked to have seen more in the way of closed loopholes in the tax reform plan, but believes overall the plan “will be better for the economy.”
He added that he still believed spending cuts, including for programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid that he mentioned earlier, must be addressed or “shame on us.”
Trump tariff threat
Of the Trump tariff plan, Goodlatte elaborated, “I’m still looking at them – it’s a decision that the president gets to make. Congress can respond and we’re looking at whether we should respond. I am very concerned about these huge trade deficits that we run year after year after year. It hurts the U.S. economy greatly when other countries send their products here and they set up barriers of various kinds to keep our products out of their countries. And this is one response that the president has identified that he is taking. But, as I mentioned in my remarks, it has some repercussions for doing so. So, I think we need to look at this.”
And the elephant on the Hill
He also said that as Judiciary Committee chair he and his committee were keeping up with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“We have followed the matter very, very closely. But we have said we are not going to try to duplicate, replicate the investigation,” the congressman began, then pivoting toward other investigations and investigative agencies. “We have been very concerned about FBI actions taken in their investigation of wrongdoing of former Secretary Clinton and her affiliates. And we’ve been very concerned about potential misuse of authority by the FBI in their seeking to do the investigation here in regard to the so-called Russia influence matter.
“However, we have always said that Mr. Mueller should continue his investigation and that I support that investigation. When he files a report we will certainly look very carefully at what he has to say. But I also will say that there has been nothing that he has shown us so far that would indicate collusion by the Trump campaign with whatever involvement Russia had with attempts to influence our election, which I do think took place.”
Just as images of Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos and happy-hour FBI employee “secret societies” began dancing in this reporter’s head, Goodlatte Chief of Staff Pete Larkin interrupted to say it was time for the congressman to “get going” – which is obviously why he is chief of staff, and a timely one at that. However, he did leave me a staff press contact point by which to submit any follow-up questions.