Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Santa Clarita) hosted an in-person town hall at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley Wednesday evening.
The audience was speckled with those from both sides of the aisle, many donning political shirts or holding signs as Garcia discussed a wide slate of topics.
Garcia started off the evening with the Marine Corps League Color Guard of Simi Valley presenting the American, California and POW/MIA flags with a performance of the national anthem. He then acknowledged the 13 military service members who died in Afghanistan after a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport last week. Garcia read their names before holding a minute of silence.
He continued with a speech about his efforts in congress and his stances on several matters before taking questions from members of the public that were present.
With COVID-19 still at the forefront of the country’s priorities, Garcia mentioned his efforts to help small businesses, co-sponsoring the Entree Act.
“I think the biggest thing that we did throughout [the Covid pandemic] was hosting these PPP workshops, the paycheck protection program was actually probably one of the best lifelines for small business owners,” he said. “These were grants that were given and they started off as loans with forgivable attributes if the businesses adhered to them. If they kept people on the books, that they stayed in business, and allowed their employees to continue working, PPP literally saved their business. We hosted several workshops with the guy that actually wrote the PPP bill… It was an opportunity for business owners, many of them from Simi Valley, to actually directly ask questions to the guy that wrote the PPP.”
Garcia talked about stimulus check payments, noting it was “one of those things that I broke ranks with the Republican Party… I supported the $2,000 check because it’s California.”
“We’re struggling to keep our snorkels above the waterline already with this governor closing us down, the counties shutting down businesses,” he continued, “and $2,000 goes a long way in Mississippi or South Carolina, but it doesn’t do anything here in California.”
The subject of a lot of debate and fury lately has been vaccination mandates and requiring proof of vaccination to enter certain facilities. One man in the crowd expressed his frustration with vaccinations and told Garcia, “Sometimes with the way things are going, it seems so crazy… Losing our liberties, being forced to get vaccines, losing your job because you’re not given an option… It should be an option, it’s a personal choice.”
“There’s a lot of debate about whether the vaccines work, there’s a lot of debate about whether we’re better off with the vaccines,” Garcia began in response. “Let me settle that. The vaccines work, OK? And I have no illusions, by the way, that I’m going to settle this by me saying that the vaccine works. If you haven’t gotten the vaccine, I recommend that you talk to your doctor and figure out whether or not you’re going to get the vaccine… I don’t like it when politicians tell me what to do. This isn’t me telling you to go out and get the vaccine, this is me telling you to go out, talk to your primary physician – your doctor – and see what’s best for you, but I do know that the vaccine has proven to be a large mitigation in the spread of the virus and it is saving tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of lives. [However] it should not be mandated. I don’t like that the government is mandating these things, I don’t like that we’re being told we can’t go to certain places unless we have had the vaccine. This is a personal choice… We can have security, in this case health security, without giving up our freedoms and our liberties. We don’t need the government telling us to do things along those lines.”
He said after visiting hospitals over the last few weeks, frontline workers told him, “‘We cannot allow this mandatory vaccine to come down, regardless of whether we like it or not, or believe it or not, there’s a good chunk of our workforce that isn’t going to get the vaccine and they will literally move from California before they do that and that’s a problem.’”
“We don’t have enough of those folks already in these industries and in some cases people are literally not getting the vaccine because the government is telling them to,” he went on. “That’s the way they’re hardwired, that’s the personality of many Americans, and that’s the reality. That’s what we have to be very mindful of when we start talking about these things like mandatory vaccines.”
One woman labeled the COVID-19 pandemic as a “plandemic,” then said, “We’ve had lots of kids learning online in school and they were falling behind. Teachers were saying that parents could not watch the teachers lectures during the day.” She claimed that schools need to be held accountable to educate children who fell behind and that by mandating COVID tests, schools are overstepping parental rights.
“I think parents need to have the option,” Garcia responded. “This is why I support things like charter schools – homeschooling – to give parents the option. No one should be requiring your child to do something. Especially from a medical perspective… We have very good schools in our district and I think most of the teachers are doing a great job. I think we are all trying to do the right thing, which is to give our kids the best education they can get.”
Something that has weighed heavily on the hearts and minds of many Americans in the last couple of weeks, regardless of party affiliation, has been the conclusion to the War in Afghanistan. This Sept. 11 marks the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93.
“Over all of these 20 years it’s been more like keeping [Afghanistan] peaceful… I can’t understand why everyone keeps calling it a war when it’s really been a peace-keeping mission for so very long,” stated one woman in the audience.
Garcia said his office worked tirelessly to bring people home following the start of the withdrawal. He was also very candid in his criticism of President Joe Biden’s handling of the war’s end.
“Since this debacle in Afghanistan started, this has been one of the most horrific nightmares that our nation has experienced. I’m not ashamed to say this, it makes me sad to have to say this, but our commander-in-chief right now is not doing his job and, in my opinion, has done a great disservice to our military…”
Garcia gave his opinion on what should have been done differently, and said it was predictable and preventable without addressing former President Donald Trump’s initial deal with the Taliban to pull troops out of the country, before Biden became the Democratic Party nominee for president last year.
“You don’t commit to an unconditional withdrawal with a prescribed date ever,” Garcia said. “You don’t need a master’s degree in National Securities Studies to know that. You don’t hand the keys over to the state department and couch this as a diplomatic mission when there are literally tens of thousands of Americans in harm’s way and you’re negotiating a deal with the Taliban, a terrorist organization, surrounded by Al Qaeda and ISIS-K. This is not a diplomatic mission.”
One Navy veteran in the crowd asked, “What is our government doing in getting our fellow Americans back from Afghanistan, our Afghan allies… The state department has this so-called relationship with the Taliban and the Taliban wants to seek recognition on the greater stage. Why doesn’t this administration try to leverage some of that?”
Garcia claimed the current number of American citizens and allies left in the country may not be accurate.
“To this day, we don’t have an accurate accounting of how many Americans are still in-country. If you recall, before the massive evacuation started just two weeks ago, this administration was telling us they believe roughly 10,000 Americans are in Afghanistan and just today they told us that ‘we believe there’s less than 250 left over’ and in the same brief they say ‘we got 5,500 Americans out’. That math doesn’t add up. That means there’s 4,500 Americans, based on the early estimates that we had, and that’s just in the Kabul area not including the entire country of Afghanistan. So we’ve lost these precious national assets and these precious human beings – 13 of them – to these mistakes and [Biden] is accountable for the deaths of these precious young American lives. I’m fearful that it is actually going to get worse before it gets better. We’re gonna hold him accountable.”
John Lapper, a Simi Valley resident, denounced Garcia for some of his public comments regarding the recent events in Afghanistan.
“You certainly know the importance of following orders and executions of a military mission. How do you justify your 17-day daily attacks and criticism of our commander-in-chief President Biden while he was actively engaged in a military mission evacuating thousands of Americans and Afghans? Calling for the commander-in-chief of the operation to immediately resign. Specifically challenging the president’s timeline and calling for our air power to do a fly-by of the Taliban positions, which would have only antagonized and escalated the threat around the airport, was both divisive and dangerous. How can you in good conscience and with respect to our fallen soldiers and their families… call the actions of Biden’s attendance ‘the most disrespectful thing any president has done to the military’?”
Garcia replied that he called for Biden to resign because he believed “he was continuing to make mistakes that did actually lead to the deaths of Americans… he basically dropped the ball so significantly to the point that he’s proving to China, Russia, North Korea [and others] that we are vulnerable.”
“Our president failed to recognize that it takes two to tango…” he said.
Congress holds responsibility for conducting oversight, he said, especially “when you have someone sitting in the Oval Office that really doesn’t understand what’s happening or the implications of his policies and actions… he needs to resign.”
Despite this, Garcia said he was glad Biden paid respect to the 13 service members when their remains arrived in Dover, Del., but then called Biden looking at his watch during the ceremony “literally despicable.”
“I’m not questioning whether he was there with sincerity, he may have been,” Garcia said. “You don’t do that. I do know when you’re the President of the United States and there’s a fallen troop getting put to rest in front of you, you don’t check the time.”
Criticism of the Biden Administration
Garcia continued his condemnation of Biden’s international policy.
“We have an administration that is giving hope to the bad guys,” he said. “I don’t like that and neither should you. We have an administration right now that’s not paying attention enough to China. It’s not holding China accountable for the development and the dissemination of the [COVID-19] virus.”
He continued to speak about China as a threat to American security and his participation in efforts to remain aware of what the country does. After praising the China Accountability Task Force, of which he is co-chair, he resumed his criticism of Biden for approving the Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline while shutting down the Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S. and for turning “his back on the Cubans who are struggling to gain their freedoms and their liberties and given hope to the Cuban communist regime. He is trying to re-enter the Iran Nuclear Deal, the joint cooperative plan of action, which was neither joint or cooperative, and really isn’t a plan of action. He’s trying to get back into this deal, even though Iran’s not asking us to, it makes no sense. That’s doing a good deed for a bad country who is actually developing nuclear technology to use against our allies, in Israel especially. He’s given hope to the Venezuelan government by lifting sanctions against them. It was unnecessary to lift sanctions, the sanctions were working and now the communist regime in Venezuela is thriving… I don’t understand this.”
California Wildfires and Climate Change
Garcia’s first interaction in the Q&A portion from the evening was from an opposing viewpoint of his own. One audience member stated “Major fires are no longer happening solely in forests, they’re happening in shrublands that continue to dry due to climate change. Federal fire and weather data shows us the years with the most acres burned were generally a degree warmer than average. This is not an issue of forest management, it’s an issue of climate change.”
Garcia differed. He called wildfires “a big deal,” but “God forbid if anyone tells you that this is a product of climate change.”
“They don’t understand what’s really going on with the wildfires. I’m not a climate change denier, I’m a facts and data kind of guy and I do believe the climate has changed in the last 120 years as a result of the industrial revolution, but that doesn’t mean that we have to forget physics and that we don’t attribute things like the fire triangle to the reality of what’s going on around us,” he continued. “The fire triangle consists of fuel, heat and oxygen. It’s not a product of the temperature raising necessarily one or two degrees in the last 50 years. The reason we have the wildfires that we have is our state stopped investing in the fuels management programs, the deforestation programs, that we had. Another contributing factor is that our population in the last 40 years has doubled. We’re now 40 million instead of 20 million people in California and where we’re living is actually now more along the outskirts and the suburbs and the rural areas… This means we have humans interfacing with wildlands a little bit more than they were maybe 40 years ago. When you combine this with the fact that our state stopped doing prescribed burns in the 80s and 90s that were successful, we’re left with a lot of fuel in our hills, not enough funding for our firefighters to fight it, and we’re renting these yellow super scoopers from Canada that are going about 100 miles an hour and they carry almost no water… This isn’t how you fight fires, this isn’t how you get the heat out of the fires. We need more large aerial tankers, we’re committed to getting more C-130s that drop Phos-Chek.”
Despite leaving out the global implication of climate change, he described his work toward different fire prevention tactics for California’s forests.
“I introduced what’s called the Protect Act and this is something at the federal level that gives the land managers in the federal lands the opportunity to do controlled burns and do deforestation efforts and it will be a major deal here as we start to look at how the federal government can manage its lands better. I also introduced the Fire Act which gives funding to [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] to implement things like artificial intelligence to make sure that we can actually start predicting the behavior in some of these fires and proactively deploy assets to mitigate the fires.”
Garcia talked about the United States’ immigration laws and the refugee crisis on the southern border, calling it a humanitarian crisis. He continued by suggesting while laws need to be enforced, the naturalization process needs to be streamlined. Meanwhile, he went on, “businesses who hire illegal immigrants should be held accountable, and we need to hold the transnational criminal organizations who are acting as mules and bringing people across the border accountable. And if they bring someone across the border and that person commits a crime, the person that brought them across the border or houses them once they’re in the United States knowingly should be held accountable for that same crime.
“And when we do all of those things… then we should be talking about DACA and the Dreamers, we should be talking about selective amnesty, but only after that,” he said. “And it starts with securing our borders, and I’ve been very clear about that since day one.”
On to law enforcement, he believes police officer require better training rather than defunding, as what’s become a popular rallying cry following George Floyd’s murder last summer.
“We’ve seen this terrible movement in the last couple of years about defunding the police,” he said. “This is not good for anyone. It’s not good for the people who are complaining about law enforcement either. I’ve made a concerted effort to make sure that we’re supporting law enforcement, that we’re giving them the assets and the tools needed to do their jobs, to give them more training, if they need more training, more looks at the plate in order to get better and to work on things like de escalating conflict, making sure that they go home, but also making sure that we don’t have incidents. I support things like body cams, and all the protective measures to protect not only law enforcement, but also the folks that they’re working with.”
Garcia also spoke on voter ID laws, which he said was “not racist to ask for voter ID.”
“I don’t think the federal government should be dictating how we run our elections, this is the job of the states. If you don’t think it’s the job of the states then you should read the Constitution… I don’t think this is as much a political thing as much as it is a constitutional thing.”
“In the end, I have no blind loyalties to a party, to any single individuals or human beings, my loyalties lie only with the Constitution and what I think is best for America, for our beautiful nation, and what I think is best for our district and I vote accordingly,” Garcia said in closing out his town hall. “I abide by what I call the four C’s, which are the Constitution, capitalism, competition, and charity.”
He said his promise to voters that his ideology was anchored first in the Constitution and secondly to the “need for security.”
“In the end, regardless if you’re a conservative or a liberal or progressive or far right, in the end we all just want security,” he said. “We can have security without giving up our liberties and freedoms and that’s my job, to make sure you’re not afraid of government and that government is working for you.”
More information about these town halls can be found at Garcia’s website by clicking the link here. Anyone interested in viewing yesterday’s town hall yourself, you can watch the live recording of the event on Facebook here.
Garcia’s next virtual town hall will be on Sept. 3 at 3 p.m. for Santa Clarita Valley residents, followed by a 6 p.m. call with voters in the Antelope Valley.
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