At town hall, McGovern talks progressive agenda, defying Trump

  • Congressmen Mark Pocan (WI-02), left, and James McGovern (MA-02) chat before their Town Hall Meeting, Tuesday at First Chruches of Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Congressmen James McGovern, D-Worcester, left, and Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, listen as McGovern is introduced by Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz at the start of their town hall meeting, Tuesday at First Churches of Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Congressman James McGovern speaks during a Town Hall Meeting he shared with Congressman Mark Pocan, Tuesday at First Churches of Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Congressman Mark Pocan speaks during a Town Hall Meeting he shared with Congressman James McGovern, Tuesday at First Churches of Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Congressman Mark Pocan speaks during a Town Hall Meeting he shared with Congressman James McGovern, Tuesday at First Churches of Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Congressman Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, left, speaks during a town hall meeting he shared with Congressman James McGovern, front, Tuesday at First Churches of Northampton. Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, seated front right, joined some 200 people at the meeting. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

For the Gazette
Wednesday, September 20, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — Shortly after the election of Donald Trump as president last fall, a man approached Massachusetts Congressman James McGovern with this unsettling accusation — you’re not being patriotic enough.

The man told the Worcester Democrat, who serves the 2nd Congressional District that includes much of Hampshire and Franklin counties, that being patriotic meant supporting the American president. Having weighed on McGovern’s mind, the representative decided to address that statement at the beginning of a town hall meeting in Northampton Tuesday night.

To do so, he recited a quote from Mark Twain.

“‘Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it,’” McGovern said, provoking roaring applause from the crowd of several hundred at First Churches.


“This man is unfit to be president,” McGovern said.

The discussion was the first of a series of events in the Pioneer Valley for McGovern, who was joined by guest speaker and Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison. McGovern invited Pocan, saying it’s “important to get outside your own district once in awhile.”

Afterward, McGovern’s schedule had him going to a house party with like-minded people and members of the Progressive Democrats of America at the home of Northampton resident Wendy Newton.


The evening began with statements from Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz and the Rev. Todd Weir of First Churches, who both praised McGovern and Pocan.

“Recently, Representative McGovern has been fighting against the Trump administration for sanity,” Narkewicz said in his opening remarks.

Defying Trump’s agenda


For close to two hours, the two members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus — of which Pocan is co-chairman — spoke about defying Trump’s agenda and working toward building a progressive U.S. Congress in 2018.

According to McGovern, Trump’s ascendancy will go down as one of the world’s most hateful and xenophobic political campaigns in history. He went on to criticize the president’s practice of frequently tweeting his views, which McGovern finds to be offensive. The 20-year congressman hopes that Americans will not accept what he calls the “crude and offensive way” of the Trump administration.

“We cannot normalize this man,” McGovern said. “We all need to speak up and not get used to this.”

McGovern and Pocan oppose Trump on a host of issues, including national security, immigration and health care — all of which were mentioned Tuesday. Of particular concern to the two representatives is the Trump administration’s approach to national security.

“National security talks need to involve more than a military budget,” McGovern said. “We need to expand that definition.”

McGovern believes that issues like climate change and jobs should fall under the umbrella of “national security,” and that military spending, which he sees as excessive, could be curbed in favor of domestic policies that he thinks will make America look more favorable abroad.

“The Soviet Union collapsed because of excessive military spending,” McGovern said, once again garnering cheers from the audience. “We should be talking about decreasing the nuclear arsenal, not expanding it.”

Pocan, meanwhile, said Congress should exert its authority when to matters of war. “We won’t allow every president regardless of party to wage war” without congressional consent, he said.

Areas of compromise

Despite the sharp criticism, McGovern admitted that there might be areas where he and fellow Democrats could work with the Trump White House, specifically on immigration.

“If it means accomplishing something for the people that have elected [McGovern] to represent them,” McGovern said he’ll work with Trump.

However, McGovern was careful to note that he does not want any deal implementing the progressive-backed DREAM Act if it means compromises with Trump on building a border wall. The act would allow a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as youths.

“If we can help the Dreamers without funding for a stupid wall, then I’ll make a deal, but after the deal I’ll have to go take a shower. That’s how I feel about this president,” McGovern said.

Later in the evening, McGovern answered a question about the roughly 800,000 Dreamers in the U.S. The Trump administration recently announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals would be rescinded, ending the Obama-era executive order that gave temporary work permits requiring renewal every two years to Dreamers. Trump ordered Congress to find a solution for the undocumented youth within six months.

McGovern said the six-month request was unfair because of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s “majority of majority” rule that is currently blocking a vote on the DREAM Act of any variation. Ryan wishes to have the majority of the majority party in the House, the Republicans, to vote in favor of a bill in order for it to be brought to the House.

“I believe if the DREAM Act came up today in the House it would pass. Every Democrat and a chunk of Republicans probably would vote for it,” McGovern said. “The problem now is Ryan saying he will not bring it without a majority of the majority.”

McGovern also vowed to do everything in his legislative power to keep undocumented immigrants who were protected under DACA from being deported.

“I’ll do everything I can. I’ll keep them in my office if I have to,” McGovern said.

Pocan had similar thoughts on DACA and the DREAM Act, but has hopes that Democratic leaders will come up with a solution, and that “their not trading for a wall,” Pocan said.

Throughout the town hall discussion, McGovern and Pocan made the point that they are stalwart in their progressivism, and that they both recognize that during the 2016 elections two camps formed within the Democratic party — the progressive camp and the Hillary Clinton camp. However, they believe that Democrats can move past this divide.

The important thing, to them, is winning back the House and the Senate and having a Democrat majority in Congress after the 2018 elections. To achieve a majority, they know they will have to work with less progressive Democrats.

“Values unite. Issues divide,” Pocan said, while also noting that the “divide is largely done” now that Clinton and Bernie Sanders are no longer competing for the presidential candidacy.

Pocan also encouraged Democratic voters to campaign heavily for Democratic candidates, even in other congressional districts. Phone calls, social media and talking to “alternative news” were particular methods he mentioned that could help Democrats in campaigning before the 2018 elections.

On Thursday morning, McGovern will attend a Council of Social Agencies of Hampshire County breakfast. The breakfast, which will happen at the Hadley Farms Meeting House on Route 9, features McGovern as a speaker. The event begins at 8 a.m.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Sept. 20 to fix typographical errors.