ST. GEORGE — Matters of immigration, climate change, China and the national debt were among topics U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney spoke to during his first town hall meeting in St. George Friday evening.
Held at the Gardner Center at Dixie State University, there was standing room only in the conference room reserved for meeting. As the crowd eager to hear from one of their senators continued to grow prior to Romney’s arrival, it had to be moved into a larger venue within the Gardner Center.
When he took the stand, Romney said being a part of the Senate had proven to be a pleasant experience thus far, as he’s experienced good relations and humor with his fellow Republicans and Democrats for the most part.
However, on the matter of immigration, particularly border security, Romney said he felt his Democrat colleagues had put themselves in “a losing position” by making it a partisan issue.
Romney released a video over Twitter earlier in the day calling for a bipartisan solution to border security.
“Yes, we need to finish the wall,” Romney said, yet added a large part of the problem facing border security was the large amount of Central American immigrants who go to ports of entry and request asylum.
“They’re coming by the tens of thousands,” he said, adding that under U.S. law, the country is obligated to hear out pleas for asylum. Those who request it are given a court date that can be months away.
As to where the asylum-seekers stay, Romney said the country doesn’t have the capacity to house them all, which can result in the immigrants — including entire families — being released into the country with a promise to make a future court appearance, yet many don’t, he said.
“This needs a fix,” he said.
While supporting President Donald Trump in this regard, Romney previously voted against the president’s emergency declaration regarding the southern border.
When taking questions from constituents, one woman asked about Romney’s thoughts on Sen. Mike Lee’s “horrifying speech” to the Senate mocking the New Green Deal and his own opinion of climate change.
Romney said he and Lee get along very well despite having opposing views and votes at times, but he didn’t speak to the presentation Lee gave on the Senate floor.
As to climate change, Romney said he believes it is happening and that humans are significant contributors to it, though to exactly what extent he couldn’t say.
“It’s a real issue,” he said, adding that an answer may be found in the U.S. and other countries investing in cleaner technologies.
China is also an issue of importance to Romney.
“In my opinion we should be as hard on the Chinese as we can be,” he said.
China is moving to overtake the U.S. as the world’s economic and military superpower, Romney said.
“They’re stealing our technology; they’re stealing our jobs; they’re not playing by the rules everyone else plays by and they’re out to bury us,” he said. “Their intent is to become the economic and military and geopolitical leader of the world.”
To this end, Romney supports the tariffs Trump imposed on trade with China — mostly. He disagrees with the tariffs on steel and aluminum and said he has made the president quite aware of that fact.
On the $22 trillion national debt, Romney noted that the U.S. government took in $3 trillion from taxpayers and spent $4 trillion.
“Members of both parties love to spend money,” he said.
While spending needs to be reined in, Romney said that the interest on the national debt is becoming a problem. That interest was $300 billion in 2018, he said.
“This is a problem, and it’s getting worse,” Romney said.
He added that an estimated two-thirds of government spending that is not voted on by Congress goes to Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and interest. All the talk of cutting spending is usually focusing on the one-third that actually gets voted on.
“We need to talk about the two-thirds, and no one wants to talk about those,” Romney said.
It is an issue that needs to be addressed in the future, he said, adding that he is not in favor of changing the programs for people currently enrolled in them.
On matters of local interest, Romney said he met with acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and gave him a list of issues of importance to Southern Utah.
Among those issues were the contested northern corridor through the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, better national forest management practices related to preventing forest fires and moving the Lake Powell Pipeline forward.
Opposition to the concept of a lottery system for visitors to Arches, Bryce and Zion national parks was also on the list.
“We (in Utah) are not in favor of a lottery system,” Romney said.
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