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Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers talks Kavanaugh, refugees and human trafficking during stop at Lutheran Community Services

October 6, 2018

The calls to Lutheran Community Services’ 24-hour crisis hotline were so numerous after last week’s Senate testimony of sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the nonprofit’s victim advocate went hoarse.

“The last two weeks, in particular, have been pretty stressful,” Erin Williams Hueter, the director of the nonprofit’s Northwest chapter, told U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers on Friday morning. “We have had so many calls.”

The congresswoman toured the organization’s downtown facility on the same day the full Senate took its first vote toward confirming Kavanaugh, who vehemently denied multiple sexual misconduct allegations, including the heavily watched account of Christine Blasey Ford, a California psychology professor who told the Senate Judiciary Committee she was sexually assaulted by the nominee during a party when the two were in high school in Maryland in the early 1980s.

The week also saw the Trump administration announce its intention to permit fewer refugees into the country this year since a resettlement program launched in 1980. In addition to victims of sexual violence, Lutheran Community Services provides counseling and other assistance for refugees in Spokane in partnership with World Relief.

McMorris Rodgers said in an interview after the meeting she understood why there would be an influx of phone calls, and said she found Ford to be credible. But she was comfortable with the nomination process moving forward to a final vote, expected Saturday in the nation’s capitol.

“I found her credible,” McMorris Rodgers said. “I didn’t hear the convincing evidence to fully make the case. The FBI did their investigation and, as I understand it, there was nothing new. It’s very difficult to do this all in the national spotlight.”

McMorris Rodgers applauded the nomination when it was announced, but has said in recent weeks that it was important for Ford to testify. Democrats have criticized the pace of the nomination process, after Senate Republicans held up President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the court in 2016, and the scope of the FBI’s weeklong investigation.

Lisa Brown, McMorris Rodgers’ Democratic opponent in the November election, criticized the investigation in a statement released Friday and said a vote this weekend would be “a disservice to this country.”

“I believe it is important to speak out, regardless of party affiliation, when anyone is treated disrespectfully as Dr. Ford was by the President,” Brown said in her statement, referring to remarks President Trump made during a campaign event earlier this week. “I call for a fair and thorough investigation of her charges and those of others who have come forward, before a vote is taken.”

Republicans have fired back that key Democratic lawmakers sat on the allegations against Kavanaugh until the eve of his nomination in an attempt to further politicize what has already become a contentious midterm election issue.

Hueter, who was wearing a “Time’s Up” T-shirt referring to the organization providing legal and financial support for victims of sexual assault and harassment, told McMorris Rodgers that the organization was also facing hardships due to the administration’s refugee policy.

Operating in Spokane since 1956, Lutheran Community Services began serving refugee populations in the 1970s and 1980s, around the same time the federal government launched its refugee resettlement program through congressional action.

The Trump administration announced Thursday it would allow 30,000 refugees into the country beginning next year. That’s down from 45,000 the year before, and the State Department reported only half of that number were actually admitted into the United States, the lowest number of admissions into the country since 1977.

The lower caps caused Lutheran Community Services to lose an employee who had been hired to help assist with relocating refugees moving to Spokane, Hueter said. It launched its program in the spring of 2016, and anticipated helping 60 young refugees in the area. To date, it has only helped 25.

Both McMorris Rodgers and Brown have been critical of the administration’s refugee cap. McMorris Rodgers has said she supports the refugee cap of 75,000 that was incorporated as part of the congressional budget for this year, and Brown panned the Trump administration’s announcement in a post on Facebook last month.

McMorris Rodgers also inquired about the agency’s response to human trafficking, prompting Hueter to mention several recent cases in Spokane as evidence that the problem wasn’t disappearing. That includes this summer’s investigation into a pair of massage parlors employing Chinese workers.

“I think the most important thing we can do is keep listening to survivors,” Hueter said, adding that the main hurdle was providing permanent housing for victims of trafficking so that they “feel safe coming forward.”

McMorris Rodgers scribbled notes on a legal pad, and before meeting with Hueter paused to ask a pair of women in the office’s waiting room how they were doing.

Hueter closed the meeting with a plea for McMorris Rodgers to support a longer-term extension of the Violence Against Women Act. The law, first approved in 2014, was set to expire at the end of September, but through an appropriations bill has been extended through the beginning of December. The law authorizes funding for housing and legal assistance programs for victims of sexual violence, among other criminal justice reforms.

McMorris Rodgers, who voted for the bill’s reauthorization in 2013, said she would make it a priority to work with female legislators on Capitol Hill to get a longer-term bill passed.

“What an amazing show of solidarity that would be,” Hueter said.

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