U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, heard from voters around the district during a Friday town hall conducted via Zoom.
Williams, who sits on the congressional financial services and small business committees, fielded questions concerning the economy, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and others.
Williams addressed frustrations many share over limited COVID-19 vaccination availability.
“Vaccinations are not moving quite as fast as I’d like them to move,” Williams said. “We’re communicating with the governor’s office on opportunities for our rural areas to get vaccinations and we’re working on that.”
Things are different, Williams admitted, with Democrats now controlling the House, Senate and White House.
In spite of that, Williams said he remains excited and eager to tackle issues including broadband accessibility, health care and, noting that too many students continue to drop out of high school before graduating, educational opportunities. Those and other issues present opportunities for bipartisan action, Williams said.
Williams added that Republicans face challenges ahead as they work to recapture the House in 2022 but also expressed concerns over what he expects Democrats to do in the meantime.
“Concerned about big government taking over and squeezing the banks,” Williams said. “We also have to watch for tax increases.
“We know tax cuts create jobs. Tax cuts create cash flow and create opportunity. When you raise taxes it eliminates a lot of those opportunities.
“So I’m concerned about big government, higher taxes, concerned about regulations choking business out.”
One participant, identified as Susan from Austin, said the Jan. 6 Capitol riot left her horrified and disgusted.
“I never thought I would see our country turning on itself like that,” Susan said. “That’s not what we’re supposed to be about. There’s no two ways about this. You’re either with them or you’re against them.”
Susan asked Williams whether he would publicly denounce the actions of that day or whether he was also an insurrectionist.
“It was a horrible day and nobody agrees with what happened,” Williams said. “Whoever was there, whatever they represented and what they thought they wanted to do needs to be prosecuted. That’s not what America is about. I have denounced it many, many times. We just don’t support that.
“That’s why we have elections, to elect people in and elect people out. So I hope we never have this again. I don’t think we will, but if somebody does they need to be punished.”
Another participant identified as Ken from Dripping Springs commented that the country is “pretty divided.” Ken asked Williams whether he thinks Biden will try to work with Republicans and in turn asked Williams whether he and his fellow Republicans plan to try to work with Democrats or simply sit on their hands.
“President Biden, if you watched his acceptance speech, talked about unity,” Williams said. “But two hours later he tore up the [Keystone XL pipeline] agreement and put 8,000 people out of work, which doesn’t show unity.”
But, Williams added, hope prevails.
“I’m a business owner so I always try to find a way to make a deal without giving up my core principles,” Williams said. “I’ve got friends on either side of the aisle and we’re working on some bipartisan bills. Last session I spearheaded one of the best bills we passed was bipartisan with myself and [U.S. Rep. Pete Welch, D-Vermont]. It was called the Save Our Stages Act.”
The bill provides funding for entertainment venues hard hit by the pandemic.
“I have some other friends over there and we’ve already talked about doing some things from a bipartisan standpoint. I think we ought to be able to do infrastructure. That should not be a partisan issue. I think my broadband bill is bipartisan.
“I’m not going to sit on my hands. I’m not a hand sitter. But at the same time is I see something that’s not in our interest I will stand up and push back.”
Another participant identified as Tara asked Williams where he stands on immigration and voiced concerns over Biden allowing “illegal immigrants” to begin “pouring in.”
It’s important to remember, Williams answered, that America is a land of laws.
“If you adhere to the law great things happen,” Williams said. “If you break the law you need to be penalized for it.
“[Former President Donald Trump] did a great job. I totally agree with securing the border. There’s all kinds of ways to do that. The wall was a very visual way that actually worked.
“But we don’t need to have open borders. We don’t need to reward those who are breaking the law and penalize those who are standing in line to become citizens.”
A participant identified as Shelby asked when or if another COVID-19 stimulus bill will pass and whether residents will receive another stimulus check.
“It’s going to pass because they have the majority,” Williams said.
Williams said the proposed bill is too extravagant and too broad.
“But we can’t afford it and a lot of it doesn’t have any COVID-19-related substance,” Williams said. “It needs to go to help people that need to be helped. Not just paying for things like extending unemployment and all this stuff that has nothing to do with trying to fix these COVID-19 problems.”
In addressing Shelby’s distrust of the media, Williams said that what happens in Washington, D.C., and what gets reported on the news is often not the same thing.
In answer to Shelby’s third question, Williams said he opposes calls to increase the minimum wage to $15.
“I’m for doing away with the minimum wage,” Williams said. “The minimum wage is not a career and the Democrats want to make people think $15 is a career. It’s not. And $15 an hour in a lot of places in our district is going to cost jobs because they can’t afford to pay that.”
The minimum wage wouldn’t be needed, Williams said, if taxes were to be cut.
“We saw that with the tax cuts we put out in 2016,” Williams said. “When you cut taxes you create more cash flow, more wealth and see jobs expand. All the sudden you find yourself bidding for workers.
“We don’t need a minimum wage in America. Let’s create competition, cut taxes, get more cash flow in and then wages will go up for folks.”
A participant identified as Dave said he works in the oil and gas sector and fears that Biden’s actions will hurt the industry in Texas and nationwide.
Williams again said that Biden’s decision to shut down the Keystone pipeline cost jobs and livelihoods overnight.
“He’s squeezing the energy sector,” Williams said. “Here’s a country that, under President Trump, we were energy independent.
“So I don’t see what kind of mindset you have by taking an economy that’s rocking, an industry that’s really rocking and just kill it overnight.”
Williams added that lawsuits have been filed over Biden’s decision while many, including several Democrats, have called upon him to reconsider.
America may be divided but it remains the greatest country in the world, Williams concluded.
“We need more good people to step up and get into public service,” Williams said. “I think it is the most noble calling we have. And I think as Texans we need to stand up and make our voice heard now more than ever.”
Williams said he sees “great opportunities” between now and the 2022 mid-term elections.
“Opportunities to get our country back and get conservative values, conservative thoughts back in our everyday life,” Williams said.