Congressman Michael Conaway

Congressman Michael Conaway at Monday’s town hall.

In what he called an official visit, not a campaign stop, Congressman Michael Conaway conducted an hour-long town hall meeting Monday afternoon at the Mineral Wells Area Chamber of Commerce.

The visit came just ahead of Tuesday’s mid-term general elections. The Republican from Odessa is facing Democrat Jennie Lou Leeder and Libertarian Rhett Rosenquest Smith on the ballot.

Conaway touched on a handful of topics with the group of 20 people attending. He noted Congress will have a lame duck session after the Nov. 6 election, and how that goes will largely depend on the election results, especially if Democrats are able to win a majority of House seats.

Addressing the approaching group of Central America refugees – and whoever else might be among the estimated 4,000 people transversing Mexico headed to the U.S. border – Conaway said, “Our asylum laws right now are hurting our country.”

President Donald Trump on Monday sent 5,200 troops to protect the border, urging people in the caravan to stop or return home, vowing they will not enter the U.S. except through legal channels. The caravan is reportedly shrinking in numbers by people either giving up or seeking asylum in Mexico.

The President and national security officials say there are criminal and possibly terrorist elements within the caravan, with reports of unrest and violence among the group reported.

“It is in America’s best interests to know who and what is coming across our border,” said Conaway. “We need an array of infrastructure at the border to be sure we have operational control.”

Asked about building the promised wall along the country’s southern border, the congressman said, “We are in a transition with the Mexican government. They will have a new president on Dec. 1. (In Mexico) we have a president-elect who we are all trying to figure out what his relationship will be.”

Conaway backed the number of troops sent to the border.

“We always want to overmatch whatever it is we want to do,” he said.

A man describing himself as a 74-year-old semi-retired teacher asked about the Social Security Administration’s Windfall Elimination Provision, which affects Texas school teachers who during their educational careers do not pay into Social Security, but likely did at other times in other areas of employment.

The man said his SSA benefits are reduced by two-thirds.

“As an American teacher I am considered one-third an American,” he said. “Should I also get one-third of a vote? Social Security windfalls are wrong.”

“The Windfall Elimination is unfair, unethical and it is wrong,” Conaway replied, saying he co-sponsored bill to remedy the problem.

On what will happen for the next two years should Democrats take the majority in the House – the Senate is not expected to lose Republican seats to Democrats and some projections show the GOP could turn some seats currently held by Democrats – Conaway said neither legislative side will have a two-thirds majority to override presidential vetoes exercised by Trump.

“I think what you would see for the next two years are aggressive investigations of Trump and his business dealings,” Conaway said. “(California Congresswoman) Maxine Watters is screaming impeachment. (California Congressman) Adam Schiff is screaming additional investigations of this and that. I think you will see an awful lot of that.”

Schiff is a leader among liberals claiming President Trump colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election.

Asked about the status of the various investigations and probes, Conaway noted the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, on which he serves, conducted its extensive probe into alleged Russian collusion.

“We put that to bed,” he said. “Our job was to find collusion and we couldn’t find any evidence of collusion.”

As a result of the committee’s investigation, however, questions of collusion and conspiracies among certain individuals within the FBI and Department of Justice were uncovered, much of it centered on methods and sources used by the FBI to obtain FISA warrants to spy on the Trump campaign, including campaign aide Carter Page. That triggered a special investigation headed by Robert Mueller which, to date, has brought some indictments and convictions but none tied to Russia collusion by the Trump campaign.

The president had planned to release documents to the public regarding the FISA warrants but has held back, and now faces a legal challenge from the DOJ looking to prevent their release.

“I don’t see national security interests in there,” Conaway said of the FISA warrant papers. “There are some embarrassing things in there, but that’s not national security. There is no reason not to release those. Somebody from DOJ changed the president’s mind at the last minute.”

The Department of Justice now says releasing the documents at this time would interfere with Mueller’s investigation – which critics of the argument say is a tactic by DOJ to prevent releasing them to the American people and possibly exposing top FBI and DOJ officials and others above them.

“On the intel side, our investigation, we voted to release all of the interviews we did,” Conaway said of the House investigation. “They are currently being scrubbed in the intel community to make sure there aren’t any classified conversations in there. Once those are done we are going to publish them to our website so you can see what I asked, what we asked and what was answered. I want to declassify as much as possible.”

As for the special counsel’s investigation, Conaway said, “I think Mueller will make some sort of announcement right after the election. He doesn’t have to say anything. He could shut it down or he could bring indictments.”

Conaway said changes are needed on how FISA surveillance warrants are obtained.

“(We need to) reform the FISA process to make sure what happened to Carter Page doesn’t happen again,” he said. “That process is very powerful. Things happened there that shouldn’t have. We need to put some protections in place to make sure those powerful tools are not used against an American citizen unless it’s warranted.”

Should Democrats take control of the House following the mid-term elections, Conaway said he expects they will intensify their investigations into Trump, Russia and calls for impeachment.

“They will continue to investigate and reopen the Russia investigation,” said Conaway. “I don’t know if they will focus much on Carter Page and the FISA process, but they will continue investigations around this whole thing.”

Asked about the agricultural industry and tariffs, Conaway responded, “The President likes tariffs. He also has advisors around him who honestly tell him, ‘Mr. President, that’s a negotiating tool, not a long-term solution.’ You saw the president use tariffs with the EU to get them to the negotiating table to try and get that renegotiated and reset. You have seen the tariffs work with Mexico and Canada.”

He called China a “bully” that “cheats on their international agreements.”

“China is a bully and over the next several decades their economy will get bigger than ours and their military will go toe-to-toe with ours,” Conaway said. “Will China be a competitor? Yes. Will it be an enemy? It doesn’t have to be but chances are it will be. It’s never easy to stand up to a bully. A bully sometimes will punch back.”

On the Republican-led tax cuts, Conaway noted President Trump is calling for another round of middle-class tax cuts, though there are few details or specifics. The President has said he wants to give another 10 percent cut in taxes.

“We are not sure what he has in mind,” Conaway said. “It’s not going to happen in the lame duck session.”

Currently the general manager and editor for the Mineral Wells Index, I have worked as a writer/editor/photojournalist since the late 1980s.