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Protect media, speech, religious freedoms, Oregon Democrats tell more than 400 at a town hall meeting in Beaverton

Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici assailed President Donald Trump for what the Oregon Democrats say are his assaults on constitutional rights embodied in the First Amendment.

They also challenged Republican congressional plans to repeal and replace the insurance coverage mandated under Democratic President Barack Obama's signature health-care law.

They appeared together for 90 minutes Thursday (July 6) at the Conestoga Recreation and Aquatic Center in Beaverton. The session was shown on C-SPAN.

"Please know that Senator Wyden and I are fighting back every step of the way," Bonamici said to a largely supportive crowd. "We are speaking up; we are fighting back."

It was Wyden's third town hall this year in Washington County, 51 so far in Oregon, and 832 overall since he was elected a senator in January 1996. Bonamici has not held as many — she was elected to the 1st District seat in January 2012 — but she just completed a round of six meetings in northwest Oregon.

While the temperature rose outside to 90 degrees, Wyden and Bonamici turned up the rhetorical heat inside the gym, where more than 400 people gathered.

They said Trump and his staff have shown no understanding of the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and the press, assembly, and religion, all contained in the First Amendment.

"I heard one of the president's advisers the other day say something about criticizing the media because the media was not patriotic enough," Bonamici said.

"It is the media's responsibility to be accurate and truthful," she added to cheers from the audience.

Her reference was to a June 30 comment from presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, who said media coverage of Trump was "neither productive nor patriotic."

Conway defended the language Trump used the previous day in tweets about "Morning Joe" hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski on the MSNBC cable network.

"It is what he is saying, not that he is using social media," Bonamici said.

"This president has not been respectful of women, of our country, of individual rights. The media has a really important role to play in holding the president accountable."

On Feb. 17, Trump listed the New York Times, CNN, and broadcast networks ABC, CBS and NBC in tweets as "the enemy of the people."

Both Democrats have criticized Trump's executive order, which the U.S. Supreme Court will review in the fall, to put a temporary ban on travel from six Muslim-majority nations. The court let part of Trump's ban take effect, contrary to rulings by two appeals courts.

"No matter what you think of our comments — you may agree or disagree — think for a moment when you walk out of here about how in much of the world, you cannot have an open community meeting like this one," Wyden said. "That is what we have to protect."

More restrictions?

Both responded to a question by Scott Cohen of Portland, who asked how Trump and Congress would act if there were terrorist attacks similar to those on the East Coast on Sept. 11, 2001.

Cohen said he feared Trump would use such an event to win support for broader authority to curb freedoms. He used the specific term "Reichstag fire," the 1933 incident that Adolf Hitler seized upon to gain full power in Nazi Germany — from which Wyden's parents fled to come to the United States.

"We learned a lot of important lessons," said Wyden, who became a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee a few months before the 2001 terrorist attacks. He remains a critic of part of the government's response that took the form of a surveillance law known as the USA Patriot Act.

Wyden asked the director of national intelligence in 2013 whether the government was engaged in large-scale collection of data on Americans. The official denied it a few months before contractor Edward Snowden disclosed bulk collection by the National Security Agency of telephone metadata by Americans. Congress overhauled the law in 2015.

"We had never seen anything like this," Wyden said of the 2001 attacks. "But we did not do much looking ahead.

"What is different in 2017 — and I am still on the Intelligence Committee — is that I am going to make it my personal mission to make it clear that we follow policies that promote security and liberty. They are not mutually exclusive."

Cohen's reaction: "I appreciated both their responses. I was especially happy to hear Senator Wyden's thoughtful response.

"It was bad enough to have George W. Bush leading us when it actually happened. It would be a hundred times worse if it happened now under our present leadership. I'm not sure I really got a response to that."

On North Korea

Meanwhile, Hillary Storey of Forest Grove, who has been living in Japan, asked Wyden and Bonamici about the latest crisis touched off by North Korea's test of a long-range missile capable of reaching Alaska.

"China has got to get serious about this," Wyden said, referring to the source of most of North Korea's food and fuel. "If we want to really get serious, let's start imposing more stringent restrictions on Chinese banks."

He said he has some reassurance that Trump advisers — such as Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, both former generals — are counseling Trump against a military strike as the first option.

But Bonamici questioned whether Trump will heed his advisers, especially since Trump has proposed to slash the State Department budget.

"Tweeting is not a foreign policy," she said.

Storey said afterward:

"North Korea is a real and legitimate threat. Based on their responses, it was obvious they don't know what to do — but I think nobody knows what to do. I appreciate that they are at least going to work to try to discuss it and put all options on the table to avoid something that involves civilian casualties."

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Adds quote by Bonamici. NOTE: Earlier version came with attached story about their views on the GOP health care proposals, but a separate story has been posted online with comments from Sen. Merkley, who appeared with Sen. Wyden and Rep. Bonamici earlier in the day at a rally in Portland.

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