As usual no questions are off limits, explains U.S. Senator Ron Wyden kicked off his annual town hall meetings with one in Eugene on Jan. 14. Though this meeting was virtual, a few thousand people tuned to ask the senator questions about the economy, COIVD-19 and terrorism at the U.S. Capitol.
“What I heard from folks in Lane County really zeroed in on the issues that people talk about at their kitchen table and living room,” Wyden said during a press conference following the town hall. He explained that these topics included small businesses and health care costs.
Many of these issues stem from the pandemic. After the inauguration, Democrats will control the House, the Senate and the presidency, allowing them to put forward their own agenda on economic and coronavirus relief. Wyden said it’s critically important to step up COVID efforts from PPE to vaccines.
“I’m going to make sure Oregon gets its fair share of funds for these critical services,” he said, emphasizing that the Biden administration has to correct an insufficient response to COVID-19 from the Trump administration.
Later on that same day, president-elect Joe Biden revealed a $1.3 trillion dollar economic and health care relief package that will include $1,400 stimulus checks, an extra $400 a week in unemployment benefits, aid for communities and emergency funding for states.
With vaccine distribution, Wyden said the federal government has to correct some significant failures in vaccine roll out so far. And to correct it, he explains there needs to be direction to states about how best to distribute vaccines, help for those dealing with vaccines and PPE, and third, dealing with workforce challenges.
“Even in our state we’ve heard all these reports that there is all this vaccine and we aren’t getting it out to people. Just a third of the distributed vaccines in the country has actually been administered.”
Wyden also said that he will be the new chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and that his top priority on that committee will be creating more economic opportunities and jobs.
“I want to put in what’s known as a trigger where future economic benefits are tied to certain economic conditions on the ground,” Wyden said.
The senator also addressed the Jan. 6 insurrection led by Trump supporters in the U.S. Capitol that took place while Wyden and other members of Congress were counting electoral votes to certify the election results. He called the rioters “domestic terrorists.”
He explained that at first, the right-wing extremists were labeled as “thugs” or “hooligans” when that doesn’t really cover it. Wyden said the “textbook definition” of domestic terrorists is using violence to achieve political means.
The senator is also on the Senate Intelligence Committee and said that while he will not reveal confidential information, he does think there needs to be more transparency as the incident is reviewed.
“I think there needs to be a lot more transparency. I think there needs to be a lot more straight talk with the public and I think that it can be done without compromising classified sources,” he said.
Looking ahead to the Biden administration, Wyden said he’s received a fair amount of questions and concerns about the Senate holding Trump’s post-presidency impeachment trial while also needing to address economic relief.
“I went to school on a college basketball scholarship. And I can still dribble a basketball with both hands. You can do both,” Wyden said. “You can focus on the economic needs and move forward expeditiously to ensure the president is held accountable.”
Watch the full town hall meeting here.