ST. PAUL — U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson on Wednesday, Aug. 19, gave Fargo-Moorhead area business leaders a candid take on the goings-on in Washington, likening his party's efforts to pass legislation defending the U.S. Postal Service to tilting at windmills and expressing confidence in his reelection bid.
Peterson, a moderate Democrat who represents Minnesota's expansive 7th Congressional District, accepted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Spirit of Enterprise award in a virtual meeting with about two dozen Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo Chamber members. And he offered his perspective on the state of politics, absence of meaningful bipartisanship in Washington and efforts by President Donald Trump to make changes to the Postal Service ahead of Election Day.
Trump said he would bring operational changes to the Postal Service following unfounded concerns that mail-in voting could lead to voter fraud. But faced with lawsuits from several states, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Tuesday, Aug. 18, said proposed changes wouldn't take effect until after Nov. 3 so as to not impact the election.
Democrats seized on the issue, defending the mail-in voting and bringing forth legislation to block any efforts to dial back services amid the pandemic while Republicans backed the president in criticizing the reliability of the postal service.
The Democratic proposal is set to come up for a vote Saturday, Aug. 22, in the U.S. House and Peterson said he would vote by proxy on the measure because he didn't think returning to Washington for the vote was worth the potential health risk.
“I think the whole thing is overblown and it’s really because I don’t think it’s going anywhere," Peterson said. "It's not going to go anyplace, it’s just going to cause more heat than light and we’ve just got to quit doing this, we don’t need this. We need to figure out how we’re going to work together."
Peterson said he suspected the comments from Trump were meant to pull focus from other issues, like his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic response. And he said much of his district had voted fully absentee for years without issues of fraud. Members of the Democratic caucus, meanwhile, were too quick to "tilt at windmills," rather than taking up bipartisan proposals, he said.
He also said he has qualms with federal COVID-19 response funding that gave stimulus checks to Americans that make less than $75,000 and the $600 weekly unemployment benefit, which ran out last month. Trump has sought to extend $300 benefits by executive order.
"I just don't think we have the money to be doing that," Peterson said.
And Peterson expressed pessimism about legislative leaders reaching a deal that could pass both chambers any time soon. He said he continued supporting funding for pork and turkey producers and ethanol plants.
The nearly three-decade incumbent also said he expected a tough reelection contest heading into November, but felt confident he could again win over voters in the district that firmly supported Trump in 2016. He pointed to GOP polling of the district that put GOP nominee Michelle Fischbach 10 percentage points ahead of Peterson and said it was "fictitious."
"Everything that I see, my positives are higher than anybody else, my negatives are lower than anybody else, I think I'm doing my job. I've got tremendous support in the agriculture community, which frankly are mostly Republicans," he said. "We feel good but we're going to work hard. We'll put up with whatever nonsense people put out."
Fischbach's campaign raised more than $1 million ahead of the GOP primary last week. And national conservative groups have said they're prepared to put millions of dollars in ad campaigns across the district to help flip the seat red.
"We are confident that we are going to win in November," campaign spokesman David FitzSimmons said. "The voters of the 7th district are tired of having a representative who endorses Joe Biden and continually votes for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker."