AP NEWS

On Mueller, Trump and climate change, Himes engages Greenwich crowds

February 21, 2019

GREENWICH — U.S. Rep. Jim Himes is making the most of his time during a Congressional recess by meeting with constituents of all ages in Greenwich.

On Wednesday, Himes spoke before the Retired Men’s Association of Greenwich and then went to Western Middle School to address an assembly of seventh-graders and visit the Spanish classes.

Himes, a Democrat from Greenwich, offered his most extensive comments at the RMA to a packed crowd, which included his father. Much of his talk focused on the state of the country under President Donald Trump.

A member of the House’s Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, he discussed the ongoing investigations into Trump, particularly by special counsel Robert Mueller. Himes said he did not have any insight into Mueller’s work, but said he did not expect a “Hollywood blockbuster ending.”

“There are critics of the president that hope it does end up showing that there was some secret deal with the passage of a bag of money in exchange for some videotape or something,” he said. “It doesn’t end that way. I don’t actually think the Trump administration has the people or capability to pull off a conspiracy like that, and I know the Russians don’t operate that way. Russians are too smart to do something so obvious.”

Himes said he agrees with the intelligence community, which believes the Russians interfered by creating chaos and a sense in the American public that “the system is rigged.” When the Russians decided Trump could actually win, they changed strategies to hurt the Hillary Clinton campaign directly, he said.

However, Himes stressed that it was not clear that there was a conspiracy. But it is “bizarre and bad” for Trump to bad-mouth the investigations, he said. If Trump believes he is innocent, he should encourage it, Himes said.

When it comes to Congress, Himes touched on areas that need progress, particularly the nation’s infrastructure, which Trump campaigned for in 2016. Fly into LaGuardia, like Himes did recently, spend time on Interstate 95 or travel Metro-North to see how urgent the needs are, he said.

“This is something the Democrats who now control the House of Representatives completely agree with the president on,” Himes said. “We must make that investment. While there are people in my party who say, ‘Don’t work with this president on anything,’ I reject that. I am employed to try and improve the lives of the people in my district. If the president gets serious about that, I will go to the White House and, to a guy I don’t want to spend time with, I will say, ‘Mr. President, we are here to say yes.’”

Admitting it might surprise some, Himes said he would give Trump at least “mixed praise” when it comes to foreign policy, pointing to the progress made with North Korea. But he also called the way Trump expresses policy “bizarre.”

“He has some instincts I think are good, but he expresses those instincts in a destructive way,” Himes said. “I don’t think he’s wrong about his approach to Afghanistan and Syria. In Afghanistan, we are spending $60 billion a year. It’s a war that has been going for 18 years and it is an uglier situation today than it was five years ago, 10 years ago and 15 years ago.

“To put that into context for you, if we chose to provide essentially free education to every American who needed it, that would be about $60 billion a year,” he said.

But Trump expresses his skepticism about military engagements in a bad way, Himes said, like when he announced a withdrawal from Syria without first informing the Department of Defense. Himes said that sent a signal to the Kurds, who have been America’s allies there, that the country was leaving them behind.

When it came to NATO, Himes said Trump was “not wrong” to tell the other countries to abide by their obligations to fund defense. But it was “catastrophic in the way he expresses that,” Himes said.

“NATO should never worry the United States, which was the reason for the founding of NATO, is somehow going to turn on its NATO allies,” he said.

Himes strongly criticized the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal formed with Iran under President Barack Obama. It was a “tragic mistake,” said Himes, who believes the president is surrounded by people who want a war there.

Afterward, he headed over to Western Middle School, where he spoke at a half-hour-long assembly and took questions from students. He urged the kids to reach out to him on social media or visit his office in Stamford. The students asked about the Second Amendment, equal pay for women, immigration and climate change.

“Climate change is such a big problem that government needs to do more on,” Himes told the students. “We need to encourage a faster change away from electricity that is made by burning coal in favor of making electricity in ways that don’t burn coal. We’re not doing enough.

“And this is one issue where you guys, when you’re my age, are going to be dealing with our failure to address this problem if we don’t get our act together pretty quick,” he said.

The topic also came up at the RMA, where Himes was asked for his thoughts about the “Green New Deal,” which has been championed by U.S. Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez of New York and other progressives.

“We should mobilize in a very substantial way around climate change. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to stop cars or make cows go away,” Himes said. “It means we’re going to do a fully refundable carbon tax or cap and trade. We should do those things.”

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Himes will continue to meet with constituents as he speaks before Indivisible Greenwich and Indivisible Stamford at Eastern Middle School. The public is invited to attend.

The Himes address before the RMA was recorded and will be posted at www.greenwichrma.org.

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com