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Norman Transcript: Cole hosts first town hall of the year

March 31, 2021
News Stories

Norman Transcript - Reese Gorman

In a virtual town hall with constituents, Congressman Tom Cole spoke on the COVID-19 pandemic, gun legislation, tax increases and President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure plan that was revealed Wednesday morning.

While vaccinations may offer a light at the end of the tunnel in regards to COVID-19, Cole urged people on the call to continue taking precautions so society can soon get back to normal.

“[This] doesn’t mean that the crisis is over — I would still urge you to continue to wear masks, continue to socially distance and continue to be cautious,” Cole said. “But the reality is we have made a substantial amount of progress and we need to keep our foot on the metal. But, in the next several months, we do have the chance to finally put this awful virus and global pandemic behind us.”

Despite voting against the American Rescue Plan Act, Cole said that there were “certainly some good things” in the COVID relief package.

“We did more work on vaccine development and distribution, that’s a good thing,” Cole said. “We provided checks to individual Americans — I would have been more targeted in that, but I think the basic thrust of that program I supported late in 2020, and I certainly have no objections to it in 2021.”

But Cole said he disagreed with some areas of the plan, and believed $1.9 trillion was too much money to spend.

The mayor of the biggest city in Cole’s district, Norman Mayor Breea Clark, was an outspoken advocate of the relief package and even joined a bipartisan group of 400 other mayors in signing a letter and sending it to congressional leaders.

“We spent a lot of money — more than necessary — on state and local governments in my opinion,” Cole said. “I have had fairly extensive discussions with our governor with our state legislature, and they really didn’t suffer anywhere near the loss of revenue that the federal government did, partly because of property tax, sales taxes at the local level and at the state level — sales tax turned out to be much more resistant to the change in economic activity.”

Cole also fielded questions from constituents on numerous topics ranging from the situation at the southern border to H.R. 1, which addresses voting rights.

A constituent asked about immigrants coming into America from the southern border without having to receive a COVID test. She expressed that she is “concerned” at the rate immigrants are coming in without having to be tested.

Customs and Border Protection is not testing migrant children as they enter the country and are placed in border stations, but the majority of migrants are tested as soon as they are transferred from those facilities.

“Honestly, it’s unacceptable that we would let people into the country and literally start moving them around the country without testing them first,” Cole said in response to the question. “You wouldn’t have that ability if you flew into the country legally, you certainly shouldn’t have it if you arrived illegally — and they’re doing it because they’re overwhelmed they don’t have the facilities at the border to take care of people.”

According to the latest data released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, less than 6% of COVID-19 tests for migrants have come back positive.

“There’s testing happening,” Acting FEMA Administrator Robert Fenton told lawmakers at a hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security. “What we’re seeing is less than 6% positive right now, coming across the border.”

Cole also eased the minds of some constituents who said they fear the government might pass legislation that would “take away” their guns.

“I’m hopeful that we will be able to stop this in the Senate,” Cole said. “ As long as the filibuster holds, we will be able to stop it — they would have to get to 60 votes.”

Cole also said many Democrats from more rural states would likely be against extensive gun reform as well.

“I think [Democrats] that represent places like Montana and Arizona, where there’s a very strong pro-Second Amendment movement, [have] given indications that they are not in favor of extreme measures,” he said. “So, I’m hopeful we can have a bipartisan alliance.”

Constituents also raised concerns about H.R. 1, titled the “For the People Act,” which would expand voting rights across the board and make voting more accessible.

Cole once again reiterated that many of these bills that pass the House will more than likely die in the Senate unless Democrats get rid of the filibuster, and even then, some of the more moderate Democrats have hinted at being against a bill like H.R. 1.

Online: Norman Transcript