Courtney talks 2019 legislative victories, impeachment at chamber event

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Groton — U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, spoke Wednesday about the legislative accomplishments that have been "kind of lost in the noise down there" in Washington, D.C.

This meant touting the passage of bills that ensure benefits for Navy veterans exposed to Agent Orange, provide tax credits for companies to set up 401(k) plans and encourage auto-enrollment, and help protect the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed.

The Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut hosted a business luncheon with Courtney as the keynote speaker on Wednesday, the first since June.

The takeaway from chamber President Tony Sheridan was Courtney's "ability to work across the aisle and to treat everybody with respect." Sheridan said there is "no better congressman in the United States of America."

Courtney spent 10 minutes talking about the impeachment of President Donald Trump, at the urging of Sheridan and only after spending 20 fast-paced minutes on policy.

Along with sharing the positive implications of the defense spending bill for Electric Boat, Courtney praised the repeal of the Cadillac tax, noting, "There were parts of the (Affordable Care Act) that were very good. This one wasn't."

He also praised the passage of the TRACED Act, a measure designed to curb robocalls that Trump signed Dec. 30. "We got more mail on robocalls than impeachment, than the war in Iran, than prescription drugs," Courtney said.

Looking forward, Courtney said an infrastructure bill will be rolled out next week.

Another issue he wants to address is "surprise billing" after people see an out-of-network doctor. "When you're in the emergency room, you really don't have the luxury to shop around for a doctor, when you've got a broken leg or a heart condition or a crisis that's happening," he said.

One topic Courtney didn't get to was House and Senate passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA. He told The Day after the luncheon that it "defied the laws of political gravity" that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi found "a way to get Democrats to vote for a trade agreement."

Speaking of China's trade practices and the illegal Airbus aid in Europe, Courtney acknowledged that the U.S. government needs to "fix some of these bad actors that are out there," but he feels tariffs are not the way. Rather, he wants to see the U.S. work with its allies, through the G7.

"There's ways of sort of trying to gradually flex your muscles when you get a decision like Airbus, without just totally blindsiding sectors of your own economy in the U.S.," Courtney said.

He also told The Day that he won't be endorsing any of the Democratic candidates for president, that he's "just going to let this play out."

Courtney talks impeachment

Though Courtney voted on Dec. 18 to adopt articles of impeachment, he pushed back on the narrative that impeachment has been the plan since day one.

"Nobody in their right mind would relish voting for impeachment," he said. "That's not what, certainly, I was thinking about when I ran for Congress, way back when. But at some point, you don't get to pick and choose what comes in your inbox, and you've got to make a choice."

Courtney said the calls to his office on impeachment became "pretty divided," which did not surprise him because he knows what kind of district he represents.

He voted to table impeachment resolutions — meaning he voted against moving forward on impeachment — in December 2017, January 2018 and July 2019. Among Democrats, 126 voted to table while 58 voted against the first time, and 121 voted to table the while 66 voted against the second time.

Last July, 137 Democrats voted to halt the impeachment effort while 95 did not. Courtney said his feeling was that relitigating the 2016 election, in terms of what was in the Mueller report, "was not sufficient to take that momentous step."

He said what changed was that the inspector general "came forward validating a whistleblower complaint and saying that it was urgent, credible and affected national security."

Courtney noted the U.S. has treaty obligations to assist Ukraine if that country's territorial integrity is violated, and he said the Trump administration has not tried to justify why the aid — which Congress approved and the Department of Defense certified – was held up.

e.moser@theday.com

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