U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran’s tour of the state’s 105 counties exposed both deep division on national policy issues and weariness with partisanship that inhibits progress on key issues in Washington, D.C.
Moran, who visits each county on a two-year cycle, said he would embrace greater collaboration in January once the Democrat-led U.S. House takes position along with the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate and the White House of President Donald Trump.
“I’ve looked at elections like New Year’s Day,” he said. “You establish your resolutions and you look for a brighter future. A brighter future would involve Republicans and Democrats working together. It would involve Congress working together with the White House.”
Moran said the partisan, divisive decision two years ago was to use Republican influence in Washington to take down the Affordable Care Act. He said the opening act next year should be a bipartisan plan for better highways, rural broadband connections, upgraded water treatment facilities and a portfolio of other infrastructure projects linking urban and rural, Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
“Maybe we could prove to ourselves and the American people at the same time there is a way to work together,” the senator said.
In the interview, Moran shared insights into what he learned from his latest town halls across the state.
Capital-Journal: Why are you drawn to this type of interaction when so many federal lawmakers avoid unscripted, direct contact with voters outside of campaigns?
Moran: These conversations give me a feel and understanding of what Kansans care a lot about, most about, intensely about. It gives me, in many instances, the encouragement or enthusiasm to fight harder or to engage more in an issue.
Was the vibe in this round different than in the past?
This tour was different. There is a lot of anxiety and anger. The country, including Kansas, is significantly divided. I think that maybe the whole tone of the town hall meeting is different, because of social media.
People are there to make a declaration rather than find answers?
They’re there to make a point and make certain I understand. In some ways, it’s getting things off the proverbial chest. Issues have become, over time, much more national and less what I’d call community and local.
Assuming the House, Senate and Trump gets through an infrastructure bill, what next?
At the moment what is pending is a farm bill. It is something that historically, traditionally has been bipartisan. There are many more members of Congress who are concerned about nutrition programs than they are about farm programs. Therefore, it’s to our advantage, rural agricultural Kansans, to make sure those things remain together or there will be little or no farm policy.
You’re suggesting Midwest Republicans should be less isolated by warming to policy goals of coastal Democrats?
If we don’t pursue common ground with people on both coasts, my ability to represent Kansans and have any level of success is diminished.
What was the most consistent issue raised in this round of town halls?
It was health care, the Affordable Care Act. That issue is more driven by peoples’ personal experiences rather than politics. Most people who came intentionally to see me were those that did not want it repealed, but there was a corresponding set of folks, particularly when you walk out of a town hall meeting, they’d tell you that they disagree with that.
In terms of political leadership, what’s that signal to you?
I’m trying to find a way to thread a needle in which we could do something that protects and preserves pre-existing condition coverage and takes us a step further in how do we reduce the cost of premiums.
What about the president’s trade conflicts with North America, China and Europe?
Absolutely. I would put trade over the last six months toward the top of the list of conversations with Kansans. I’m pretty outspoken on the importance of trade and exports to Kansas.
Is that seed of thought resonating in the Trump administration or do you feel like you’re talking to a fence post?
Sometimes you’re told things you want to hear. My view is that I would not be representing Kansans if i didn’t make the case at every opportunity that exports matter and we earn a living in our state by what we sell around the world.
What do you prefer the president do on trade?
Let’s try to settle our differences with Mexico, Canada and the European community and then let us go after China in a united way and beat back their stealing of our trade secrets, cyber attacks and patent infringement. There has to be a more direct approach than just we raise tariffs and they raise tariffs in retaliation.
Is it odd an intellectual property dispute brought the hammer down on Kansas farmers?
Soybean farmers do not understand why they would pay a price for it.
Do the federal deficit numbers attached to the tax law signed by President Trump still sound like policy shaped by fiscally conservative Republicans?
Both parties at one point in time saw a balanced budget as a desirable thing. Nationally, Democrats began to abandon that belief and over time Republicans have done the same thing.
You’re chairman of a Senate subcommittee looking into sexual abuse in Olympic sports. Preliminary conclusions?
We saw in this investigation that, with way too few exceptions, when the story of sexual assault was told, people looked the other way.
Are Kansans concerned about investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election? What about the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi?
Kansans, not in large numbers, but in numbers, are disappointed in the way the president ... is not listening to his own intelligence services.
How do you think Kansans view the reported reluctance of President Trump to visit combat zones like you have?
I’ll leave it to his security folks to make a decision about the desirability of the president, this president, to visit a war zone. But I can tell you it is important to me. The most challenging issue I face as a member of Congress is the decision about whether or not we should put people in harm’s way. It is important for me to see and understand what those risks are. We have military men and women who are serving constantly around the globe and it’s important for me to convey to them that they’re not forgotten.
Where did you finish this tour of Kansas?
Moran in Moran. I thought it would be clever.