Third District Congressman Jim Banks speaks at his town hall meeting in Winona Lake Thursday morning. About two dozen people attended with comments and questions on issues ranging from Syria and China to abortion and impeachment. Photo by David Slone
Third District Congressman Jim Banks speaks at his town hall meeting in Winona Lake Thursday morning. About two dozen people attended with comments and questions on issues ranging from Syria and China to abortion and impeachment. Photo by David Slone
WINONA LAKE – Congressman Jim Banks (IN-3) faced over a dozen comments and questions at his town hall meeting in Winona Lake Thursday, with many of those about foreign affairs.

Through it all, he repeated his support for President Donald Trump, though some in the crowd questioned whether anyone in the Republican Party had “any backbone” to stand up to the president when he was out of line. Others in attendance vocalized their support for Trump.

Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan

The first question asked of Banks was about the “situations” in Ukraine and Syria and “what is going on in Afghanistan?” The man who asked said it appeared the U.S. was “pulling back from some of our allies.”

Fox News reported Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened Thursday that his country could “just open the gates and send 3.6 million Syrian refugees into Europe” if the European Union classifies his military’s ongoing assault on Syria as an “invasion.” He also announced that Operation Peace Spring so far has killed more than 100 Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, whom Turkey views as terrorists allied with a Kurdish insurgency within its borders.

Banks said he could talk all morning about Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan.

“Let’s start with Syria, and I have a great deal of concern about what’s going on there today. I have voiced my opinion to the Administration and to others that pulling out of Syria and abandoning our Kurdish allies there, I believe, is the wrong move as we have aligned ourselves with the Kurds over the past few years and our fight against ISIS,” Banks said.

The Kurds hold 12,000 ISIS fighters in captivity, and if the Turks come in and wipe out the Kurds, Banks said he foresees an insurgence of ISIS, which America would live to regret if it doesn’t handle the situation carefully.

“What is concerning is the Turks and their allies – which would be the Russians supporting the Turks – are on the border and preparing to (invade), if they haven’t already,  ... But it’s a very dangerous situation and I disagree with the Administration’s way forward,” Banks said.

On Ukraine, Banks said, “This president has been far more supportive and provided more aid to Ukraine than the last administration ever did. I appreciate that about this president, because Ukraine, as you know, fighting against Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine, the Russians took over Crimea. That was during the Obama administration when that happened, and when Ukraine asked for our help, President Obama sent them blankets. President Trump sent them Javelin missiles to fight against Russian tanks and provide lethal aid to the Ukrainians to fight against the Russians.”

He said the U.S. is training the Ukrainian military to fight against Russia.

Afghanistan is an entirely different situation, he said, noting that he served there while in the Navy Reserves.

“I want to see the day when we bring our men and women home out of harm’s way. ... But likewise when I went back to Afghanistan to meet with our military officials last year as a Congressman ... what I was hearing from the generals on the ground ... is the situation there is a lot different. We’re not just fighting against the Taliban, ISIS has built up in Afghanistan, and if we abruptly pull out too dramatically, we’d create another situation with a vacuum that would be filled by ISIS,” Banks said.

He said he has called on the Trump Administration to take a more careful approach when it comes to Afghanistan.

Todd Fruehling, a retired public affairs officer of the Air Force, from Fort Wayne, told Banks, “What’s going on, to me, is unconscionable. Soldiers do not go to war to fight for mom, apple pie and the girl they left behind. They fight for the soldier beside them. Everybody’s got to know that. And when we abandoned the Kurds, we didn’t just abandon the Kurds, we proved to all of our other allies that we’re going to back out on all of them, too. And when we lose our secretary of defense ... and we have a personal lawyer that seems to be outranking our secretary of state, I’m concerned. Quite frankly, I’m pissed. ... But more than anything else, what it appears to be is that people are afraid to speak up.”

He also said that there seems to be an environment created by “heavy-handed leadership” where people are afraid to speak up and loyalty is getting the upperhand over honesty. “You can’t let that happen. Honesty must be preserved. The truth must be preserved,” he said.

Mike Ragan, Kosciusko County Republican Party chairman, said that almost daily people come into the GOP headquarters and say they support Trump and want Trump gear.

“I’ve been a news junkie since I was a little kid, and following these stories with CNN and ABC and CBS, they’re no longer objective. It’s all opinion pieces,” Ragan said. “To look for any objectivity at all, the only place you can find it in America today is Fox News. And I respectfully disagree with those who think you can get the truth from the liberal press.”

Tony Kindig later commented that, according to Fox News, 51% of Americans support impeaching Trump. Trump blasted Fox on Twitter for that poll.

Trump Impeachment

Winona Lake Clerk-Treasurer Kent Adams asked Banks about “the House vote on impeachment” of Trump and if there will be a public House vote on it.

“There should be, Kent, because the proper procedure for an impeachment situation is that the judiciary committee would take up articles of impeachment. The whole House would vote on whether or not to move forward, and we haven’t been given that opportunity,” Banks replied.

He said everyone should expect that their elected representative would have an opportunity to vote on whether or not to take on the impeachment process. Otherwise, he said, that authority is being taken away from voters and from their representative and being given to one person, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Banks said Pelosi was determined to move forward unilaterally “with this sort of unprecedented and very unclear process of an impeachment inquiry that will go through six different committees, not the Judiciary Committee that has jurisdiction over the process.”

Banks said Trump still has not been indicted of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Later in the meeting, a man said, “I just wanted to point out that, my observation is, the Republicans in the House and the Senate need to be the guardrails for this president. And I think by not speaking out at times when he’s stepped over the line, that you encourage some of his excesses. I agree with some of his policies, but I don’t agree with the way he’s doing them. And I certainly don’t agree with turning our backs on our allies and turning our back on NATO.”

He said he’s read the Mueller Report and “what through the whistleblower has now been corroborated, and we may have a quid pro quo situation. And I just think you guys need to be his guiderails and help keep him on point to get the job done.”

Five others voiced that they agreed with the man’s comments.

Kelly Thompson said she watches all the news, and while she never yet has voted for a Democrat in a presidential election, “But because I don’t see checks and balances in place, because I don’t see the men and women that we elected as part of the Republican Party ... as a past unquestioning Republican, I’m saddened by the fact that I don’t see the party of the family, the party of the principle standing up and doing more. So I’m afraid and I’m looking around for who is smart enough, brave enough, has enough backbone to stand up. What it feels like is the Republican leadership that we have is afraid of the president and forgotten about us and other members of the world.”

After a couple of minutes of conversation with her, Banks said, “I think this president has a pretty good track record heading into the election. This economy is booming. Hoosier families are benefitting from it, especially right here in Northeast Indiana. Wages are on the rise, right here in Northeast Indiana. He’s nominated two pro-life Supreme Court justices and hundreds of pro-life constitutionally-minded judges to the lower courts that are going to be there for a generation.”

He said Trump has presided over the “greatest rebuild of the American military since Ronald Reagan.” Banks said he would support Trump for another four years as president.

China

For a number of days, Banks has tweeted and retweeted about China.

Thursday, he spoke for about five minutes on that country as it relates to Hong Kong, the tariff war with the U.S. and even the NBA.

“I believe that China is the greatest existential threat to the United States of America that we face today. And, this president is the first president in my lifetime to do something about it. On behalf of the American worker, on behalf of our national security, on behalf of our economy, this president is the only president in my lifetime to address the biggest threat that I believe we face existentially,” Banks said.

To further explain that, he said Trump is holding China accountable for bad trade practices with very tough tariffs. While he said he believes in fair trade and wants to see the tariffs come to an end as soon as possible, “I also want to see China abandon bad trade practices that have come at the cost of American workers, workers in Northeast Indiana, and I believe the president is on the right track to do that.”

He said he personally introduced legislation in this Congress that addresses the theft of intelligence-related research on American college campuses through Chinese espionage, which occurs regularly.

Daryl Morey, the general manager of the NBA’s Rockets, posted an image on his Twitter that said “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” It was quickly deleted and the NBA apologized for Morey’s tweet after it generated a backlash in China.

Banks said, “If we looked to the NBA to be our moral authority, we’re probably already in trouble. But the situation at the NBA is deeper than that. If a general manager of a basketball team can post a very simple meme supporting protesters in Hong Kong who are protesting for freedom, and for democracy, and that general manager can be gagged by the NBA, by his own team, because China put pressure on the NBA to do that, it certainly should show all of us in the room, no matter what political stripe we come from, how deeply intertwined and the influence and power that the Chinese have over the United States and our economy. And this is all about money.”

Warsaw Airport

The only question that pertained to anything specific in Kosciusko County came from Jim Miller. He asked if there’s been any advancement with the Warsaw Municipal Airport. The airport has been working for years to get FAA funding to lower powerlines and make improvements.

“There are local issues like the Warsaw Airport issue all over the district, and we have worked very closely with Mayor Joe (Thallemer) for going on three years I’ve been in office, to work with the FAA. My district staff ... have been in contact with the mayor on a regular basis, trying to work through and navigate the bureaucratic process with the FAA to provide the Warsaw Airport the flexibility they need,” Banks answered.

He said he didn’t have an update then, but his office is doing everything it can for the airport.