Davis: No need to meet with politically opposed groups

Davis: No need to meet with politically opposed groups

URBANA — U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis told a small group at the Central Illinois Mosque & Islamic Center today that he won't meet with groups that are politically opposed to him.

The three-term congressman held a 45-minute meeting with members of the Muslim community and others from Champaign-Urbana at the mosque.

During a session that sometimes got contentious, Davis was confronted with a question he often gets in Champaign-Urbana: Why doesn't he meet with groups here or participate in community forums? His most recent opportunity was a forum last month at the Champaign Public Library on gun violence. Davis did not attend, but his general election opponent, Democrat Betsy Londrigan of Springfield, did.

In the past, Davis has said that he won't do town hall meetings but instead will meet with individuals or small groups for five- to 10-minute sessions at his office.

"I find it very frustrating that those who are politically opposed and who want to have a forum in a venue of his or her choosing and have taken advantage of the other many hours upon hours of venues we have given you," Davis said, "There's nothing more to say except that those who are politically opposed to me and opposed to what we want to do are not conducive to solving the problems that I was talking about trying to actually have a conversation about toning down the hate and vitriol."

The congressman said he would never "be able to accept every invitation" made for an appearance.

"How about any invitation?" interjected Savoy attorney Faruq Nelson, a member of the mosque.

"I will not accept invitations that are put out by those who are dead-set and politically opposed no matter what I do or say," Davis said. "You have a chance to do what you're going to do anyway, go vote, as you will vote against me as you always have voted against me. You will continue to do that and that's OK."

Nelson told Davis: "You've basically just written off at least half of your constituents at least in this county, more than half."

But Davis has never done well in Champaign County, where his 13th Congressional District includes Champaign-Urbana and not the more conservative areas of the county. He hasn't carried Champaign County in any of his general election contests, collecting between 36.5 percent and 46.7 percent in his three races.

Wednesday's meeting also included an unusual exchange between Davis and Alan Cook, rabbi of Sinai Temple in Champaign.

Cook asked why Davis did not condemn President Trump's "salty language" and statements that he said denigrated the Muslim community.

"Rabbi, I already have, every single time," Davis said.

"Show me evidence," Cook responded.

The rabbi later stood before Davis and publicly apologized for "storming out" of an earlier meeting with the congressman.

"I accept your apology," Davis said, but he said he's never had the opportunity to ask President Trump whether he would apologize for statements he made about immigrants and Muslims.

Much of the talk at the brief session was about civility and decorum and understanding among religions.

The imam off the mosque, Ousmane Sawadogo, showed Davis an email he had received last year.

"Get of my property you sick Muslim Bastard," it read.

"Welcome to my world. We get the same kind of hatred and vitriol. Frankly, I got shot at (by) somebody who disagreed with me," Davis said of the shooting incident last year at a suburban Washington park where House Republicans were practicing for a charity baseball game. "I've lived with it. All I can say is protect yourself and have your security as a top priority."

On other topics, Davis said:

— The forced resignation of House Chaplain Father Patrick Conroy was "an unforced error that I hope doesn't lead to many more unforced errors."

He said he did not know why House Speaker Paul Ryan asked for Conroy's resignation.

"I haven't spoken to the speaker. I've spoken to Father Conroy, who is a very good friend of mine. I go to Mass with him on a regular basis," said Davis, who is Catholic. "When I saw the resignation letter, I thought it was a resignation letter submitted by him. I congratulated him, and then he told me that it wasn't his choice. From what I hear, it's the speaker's decision. I certainly hope that a process in the future is followed."

— Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would not be impeached, although a group of House conservatives have threatened to attempt to do so.

"Rod Rosenstein is not going to be impeached and (special counsel) Bob Mueller is not going to be fired," Davis flatly predicted.

— Congress' response to recent school shootings is appropriate.

"Why is everyone always focused on the gun side?" he said, pointing out the Congress approved legislation to help school districts "harden" their facilities, expand safety-training programs and hire resource officers.

"These are good, positive steps that I think will have a real impact," Davis said. "I can tell you that as somebody who experienced gun violence, I'm not someone who believes we should restrict the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens. Frankly, even after going through what I did, I'm even more supportive of Second Amendment rights."

— The proposed changes to federal food aid contained in House Republicans' Farm Bill will be better for people who rely on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.

The Taylorville Republican is a member of the House Agriculture Committee, which drafted the legislation that has been hit by Democrats for increasing food insecurity and requiring some beneficiaries to find employment or seek job training.

"Why in the world wouldn't we invest in families who are involved in SNAP by giving them money to go get training at places like Parkland (College in Champaign), to go out and get trained for jobs that we know are available?" he said. "I visited the Parkland food pantry today, and our goal is to make sure that people don't need that food pantry. The only way to get out of poverty is to get a job."

The House measure calls for able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 59 to work or be enrolled in a job-training program for at least 20 hours a week beginning in 2020.

"What we're trying to do is actually invest a billion dollars in training and education for SNAP beneficiaries, who will continue to get SNAP benefits while they're getting trained, but then they can go get a job and get off of SNAP benefits and not have to need that food pantry," Davis said following a news conference at the Illinois Terminal in downtown Champaign. "This is an issue that has got 82 percent approval from the American people, and I would urge anyone to take a look at our proposal. We're not kicking people off of anything.

"We're trying to give them a hand up rather than a handout."

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