Himes: Checks on president more important than ever

WESTPORT— “As someone who is constitutionally part of a check and balance on the power of the president, never has this job been perhaps as important,” U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., told a full house Tuesday night.

The over 100 in attendance at the Unitarian Church in Westport found Himes’ thoughts on the political environment in Washington, D.C., at once reassuring and ominous.

“He gave me hope and made me worry about some things too,” Norwalk resident Janet Luongo said after the event.

The Thanksgiving congressional break talk with Himes was sponsored by Indivisible Connecticut 4, a political activist group operating in the state’s 4th Congressional District.

“We have a resilient democracy,” Himes said. “We have institutions that have stood the test of time.”

The courts have prevented LGBTQ troops from being dismissed from the armed forces, Himes said.

“Politics has asserted itself, activism has emerged,” Himes said, and applauded the media’s efforts to hold President Donald Trump’s administration accountable.

Nonetheless, Himes said, “Elections have consequences.

“One of them is to sanctify and celebrate large

corporations,” Himes said. “The other one is to keep the population that got excited about Donald Trump excited about Donald Trump by touching a really ugly nerve that we’ve had with us for 240 years in this country. It’s the fear of the other.”

The fifth-term congressman took questions from the crowd on a range of topics, from the possibility of impeachment, to election prospects for Democrats and national security issues.

“For impeachment not to become something that profoundly destabilizes our country forever, it needs to be done when it is undertaken by significant numbers of both parties,” Himes said.

Himes said he’s focused on helping Democrats retake control of the House, which he thinks can be achieved in one year.

“If we have control of the House of Representatives, we have subpoena power. We can subpoena the president’s tax returns, we can subpoena the president’s communications, we can really provide the kind of oversight we need to do,” Himes said.

In order to win seats in Republican-controlled districts, Himes said Democrats need to talk about “kitchen-table economic issues.”

Reflecting on his shock about last year’s presidential election, Himes, speaking in the third person, said, “Shame on us, Democrats, and shame on Jim Himes and other coastal Democrats for not being more open and understanding and listening to people who are not naturally coastal Democrats.”

Going forward, Himes advised supporters, “We have to not lose either our sense of outrage when our norms and values are trampled, or the memory of what a decent society looks like, and a decent president looks like.”

Speaking from his experience as the ranking member of the NSA and Cybersecurity Subcommittee of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Himes said the Trump administration has lifted many of the checks President Barack Obama’s administration placed on the intelligence community.

“I do worry that the intelligence community is going to start working a little more like it did in the Bush administration than it did in the Obama administration,” Himes said.

Westport resident and Indivisible Connecticut 4 member Gail Berritt said Himes’ foreboding words struck a chord.

“I’m very concerned about a lot of things he said because he knows more intimately than I the dangers of this president and this presidency and the long-term harm the administration’s doing to our government and our democracy.”

Jim Luongo, of Norwalk, also praised Himes.

“When you hear your congressperson speak so openly and honestly and so well, it restores your faith and energy in democracy.”

In closing, Himes said he is optimistic about the country’s future.

“I do feel a lot of gratitude towards the way this country has responded,” but added, “I’m not being overly optimistic here. There’s some really bad stuff happening, but it’s up to you to keep that energy up.”

svaughan@hearstmediact.com; @SophieCVaughan1