At least one thousand people have filed into the Oregon City High School gymnasium this morning to ask questions of U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon).
Here, as in other recent Oregon town hall meetings, Wyden is not facing the sort of agitated crowds that have dogged Republican members of Congress. Wyden entered to a standing ovation and has thus far received mostly friendly questions asking what more can be done to foil President Donald Trump's national agenda.
As one retirement-age woman said, prefacing her question, "I am so angry about what's going on I'm getting away from my Facebook postings and I'm getting out and getting active." She then took a dig at "Mitch 'Turtleface' McConnell." Those two sentiments seemed to capture the mood of the room. By show of hands, this was the first town-hall meeting for a majority of attendees.
The first audience comment, which drew a round of applause, began with the assumption that Bernie Sanders would have won the presidential election last November had he been the nominee instead of Hillary Clinton, and concluded by asking Wyden what he would do to ensure the Democratic Party advanced a progressive agenda instead of blocking it.
Wyden replied that this was an "official" town hall, not a partisan rally, and that if anyone wanted to talk politics, "we can do it in the parking lot afterward." He proceeded to talk about his efforts to reform the federal tax code and eliminate the double-standard between wage and investment income.
"You didn't answer the question!" shouted a woman from the back.
Wyden replied that taxation was a progressive issue when it came to eliminating big breaks for "people who were born on third base and thought they hit a triple"—taking a subtle dig at Trump, the son of a New York real-estate magnate.
Wyden addressed the various Congressional investigations into Trump's Russia ties and mentioned his own bills that would require Trump to release his personal tax returns. The two issues—foreign influence and Trump's finances—are directly related, Wyden said.
"This goes right to the heart of the legitimacy—the legitimacy!—of American government," he said.
The most fervid crowd response came when Wyden explained his reasons for voting against Trump's Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt (who was confirmed by the Senate anyway). "It would be a big mistake to sell off our federal land to private interests," Wyden said. His bill to take Oregon's vote-by-mail system nationwide was another crowd-pleaser. Oregonians gotta Oregonian.
A man who traveled from Portland asked, "How we are going to take back control during the midterms?"
"I love this group's persistence. We are on our third full-scale question that I've got to talk to you about in the parking lot," Wyden said. "What's coming out is that the Trump majority in the Congress is going to have a lot of trouble pulling off their agenda. Have you noticed their 'repeal and replace' program on healthcare? I call it 'repeal and run.' … On these kinds of issues there's the mainstream and the extreme."
He made clear that everyone in the gymnasium represented the mainstream, while the White House and Trump supporters in Congress were the extremists.
Update 12:25 pm: In a brief question-and-answer session with reporters on his way out of the Oregon City town hall, Wyden again cited public doubts about the legitimacy of the Trump administration. The issue of Trump's alleged Russian entanglements, and related potential financial conflicts of interest, "transcends everything else," Wyden said. "It speaks to whether people can have confidence in government and whether people feel the government is legitimate."
Last night WW asked a Wyden spokesperson in Washington, D.C., whether he had attended a closed meeting of the Senate intelligence committee at which F.B.I. director James Comey reportedly made an appearance. The response: "Can't answer that."
This morning, WW asked Wyden directly if he was at the meeting with Comey. "You're not allowed to say anything about yesterday," he replied.
At around the time of yesterday's meeting, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), another intelligence committee member, tweeted: "I am now very confident Senate Intel Comm I serve on will conduct thorough bipartisan investigation of #Putin interference and influence."