McNerney, D-Stockton, and DeSaulnier, D-Walnut Creek, share constituency in Antioch — DeSaulnier represents the western side and McNerney representing the eastern side and most of the remainder of East County.
Both congressmen lauded the town hall as an opportunity to hear from their constituents and keep open lines of communication regarding past votes and future plans.
“You have to be held accountable to your constituents, whether they like what you did, how you voted or not,” DeSaulnier said. “Sometimes, people had legitimate complaints about how I voted, and I had to explain myself.”
Among attending residents’ primary concerns — local, regional and national — were gun violence, immigration reform, homelessness, veterans, climate change, wages, housing costs, behavioral health and prescription drug costs.
Local resident Dan Martin asked the congressmen why the Second Amendment is “untouchable.”
“That’s a question that’s haunting all of us in Congress,” McNerney said. “My city of Stockton had the first mass school shooting in the country. We have to change the makeup of the Senate to make this happen. The NRA had its heyday back in the 2000 election. Ever since then, people have been afraid of the NRA.”
“We’re learning a lot,” DeSaulnier said. “Why don’t we take reasonable, evidence-based research and put it into place and save people’s lives?”
McNerney said campaign finance reform — particularly, disclosure of where campaign funds come from — could help this and other issues, adding that his goal is to get a constitutional amendment passed to require politicians to disclose their donors. It would only improve democracy, he said.
A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and ratification by three-fourths of the states.
Marge Perez of Brentwood expressed concern regarding detaining of migrant children at the border, asking if the “other side” can be pressured to close the camps.
McNerney and DeSaulnier agreed that it’s an issue that requires bipartisan cooperation.
“Most everyone in Congress ... cares about the country, but we differ,” McNerney said.
“Lots of us — including Jerry and I — work with our counterparts,” DeSaulnier added.
Another resident asked why the U.S. should take care of undocumented immigrants, but not citizens.
“We can do both,” DeSaulnier said. “We should be able to house our veterans and our poor, but we should also have immigration reform. I don’t think we have to be divisive.”
A few individuals from the crowd called out about homelessness, particularly among veterans. Dan Martin, who spoke previously about the Second Amendment, noted suicide rates among veterans, and the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries sustained in service.
“I was on the VA committee for eight years, and we made a commitment to reduce veteran homelessness,” McNerney said. “Any veteran on the streets is a tragedy.”
He went on to say that homelessness, in general, is a real issue in the Bay Area, one that anyone can see, especially in cities like San Francisco or his own, Stockton, and it requires compassion.
“As a society, we have a moral bearing to care about those people and help them get back on their feet,” McNerney said. “A lot of them are there because of drug addiction or mental health issues.”
“We need to be spending more money on behavioral health,” DeSaulnier added.
McNerney, who has a science background, was asked by a Concord resident regarding his thoughts on the Green New Deal. He said he supports its ideals, particularly in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But he wants to focus on what is attainable — both technically and politically — and said he did not think cutting emissions in half by 2030 is achievable. He also expressed concern for its potential economic impacts on forcing green measures.
“We are way behind the eight ball on climate,” he said. “We need action, but it has to be politically feasible for us to do this.”
He previously proposed a gradually escalating carbon tax and is a proponent of continuing to invest in wind and solar renewable energy, which he said are competitive with fossil fuels.
DeSaulnier discussed the high cost of prescription drugs, adding a personal story. Noting that negotiating for Medicare drug prices is not allowed, and that American-made prescription drugs are more expensive than those from Canada or Mexico, because of profit incentive motivation, DeSaulnier said he’s working on legislation to address the issue within the next six months.
DeSaulnier takes daily medication as a survivor of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, which costs about $500 a day, compared to $6 in Australia. He praises the Contra Costa Health Plan, which he said he “accidentally” enrolled in years ago, which allows him to afford the life-saving medication he needs.
Regarding health care, McNerney said he’s not sure the country is ready for Medicare for All at this point, but that he supports improving and expanding the Affordable Care Act to continue to reduce the number of uninsured individuals.