SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — September will be a busy month for the U.S. Congress; lawmakers have to pass a resolution to raise the country’s debt limit as well as a spending plan, but there are also aspirations for passing tax reform.
U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said there will be plenty to work on when legislators begin work in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 5, and she has already heard from constituents about what other issues need to be addressed.
Capito spent Wednesday in the Charleston area, participating in a roundtable discussion with the West Virginia Broadcasters Association and a tour of TW Metals in South Charleston. TW Metals is a specialty metal distributor that provides services to the aerospace industry, coal companies and the U.S. Navy.
Capito’s visits came a day after The New York Times reported she declined an invitation to join President Donald Trump on a flight to July’s 2017 Boy Scout National Jamboree in Fayette County.
Capito said talking to business leaders allows her to better understand issues facing both employers and employees. When asked what she talked about during her Wednesday events, Capito said topics ranged from health care to the proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“(Visits) gives me a good ear to the ground,” Capito remarked. “It’s always good to be home.”
During the debate to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s health care law, Capito was the target of statewide efforts urging her to vote against the Republican proposal.
Capito said during the process, she and her office were open to hearing from people about their concerns with the multiple health care efforts.
“I probably met with at least 1,000 people here and heard from many more than that through my office and my staff,” she said “I feel very open. I’ve had meetings — whether you call them town hall meetings or meetings at businesses — where I’ve been very open and anxious to hear.”
Capito voted for the Senate “skinny repeal” of “Obamacare,” which was rejected after it failed to gain the 50 votes needed for Vice President Mike Pence to break a tie.
Prior to the vote, the senator was offered to join President Donald Trump on Air Force One for a flight to the 2017 Boy Scout National Jamboree, where he made a politicized speech that included asking Capito to vote for repealing and replacing “Obamacare.”
According to The New York Times, Capito had to first commit to voting for the health care bill. Capito declined the offer because she had not seen the legislation at the time.
“I couldn’t give the assurances to the president at that time that I could support a product I hadn’t seen,” she said. “I felt it was more important for me to be in Washington working for a solution that helps West Virginia.
“The story in The New York Times is essentially correct. No fake news,” she said, humorously using a claim often used by Trump to describe various news outlets and stories.
Capito will be returning to a Senate whose Republicans have been battling with the president. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have not spoken to each other in weeks, which comes after a series of tweets from Trump bashing McConnell and angry phone calls between the two.
In addition, Trump took swipes at Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake during a Tuesday rally in Phoenix, though the president did not name McCain or Flake directly.
The Office of White House Press Secretary said Trump and McConnell are united in addressing “shared priorities,” adding the two will hold previously scheduled meetings once the August recess concludes.
McConnell said both he and the president are interested in “advancing our shared agenda together.”
Capito said both McConnell and Trump have different approaches to policy, which could be a good thing.
“Sen. McConnell is a strong leader, and President Trump is obviously very strong willed as well,” she said. “I think just because we disagree doesn’t mean we can’t get things done. I think it makes it for a better product when we disagree and we get different ideas.”
When lawmakers return in September, Capito said her main legislative goals include tax reform — which is shared among most of her Republican colleagues — and a plan for improving infrastructure.
“I think an infrastructure package at the federal level is a job creator, but is also something that we could work on on a bipartisan basis,” she said.
Two issues lawmakers will have to address is a solution on the debt ceiling and a spending plan. If nothing is done, the federal government would be unable to borrow any more funds. If Congress fails to pass a spending plan, the government will be forced to shut down beginning Oct. 1.
McConnell has said there is “zero chance” the debt ceiling will not be raised.
Trump told Tuesday’s rally attendees that the government will shut down if funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border — a significant promise of his presidential campaign — is not included.
“Now the obstructionist Democrats would like us not to do it. But believe me, if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall,” Trump said. “Let me be very clear to Democrats in Congress who oppose a border wall and stand in the way of border security: You are putting all of America’s safety at risk.”
Capito said she supported building the wall as well as are other methods for protecting the border, such as utilizing drones.
“I support a safe and secure country, and securing the border is absolutely a part of that,” she said.
When asked if funding for the wall would be an obstacle Congress will have to overcome, Capito did not provide a detailed response.
“Well, we’ll see,” she said.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved a $788 billion spending bill in July, which includes $1.6 billion for the border wall.